An introduction to The Short Stories of Objects.
Here are the rules to the game The Short Stories of Objects: 1. The work must be within roughly the length of 4,000 words. 2. The work should center around, or be triggered by an object, for example, a clock.
3. To spend no more than 4 hours per story in writing it. 4. To try and enjoy the process.
This white and blue plastic calculator had originally belonged to Timmy Jennings of Oakland, California. He was a boy who was a real wiz at math. Nerdy with glasses and a typical whiny voice, when he came home from school the first thing he would do would be to go get a peanut butter sandwich and then head to room and work on his college course curriculum. Timmy was in 5th grade… (the time I am referring to) and yet his mother had already had him enrolled in college courses. Calculus and statistics and mathematical set referral. Some of the titles they had for these classes were nearly incomprehensible like; advanced calc set theory of derivatives Goedl 645577. Timmy didn’t care.. as long as his mother kept shoving math problems in front of his thick coke bottle glasses Timmy was a happy boy. Timmy had no friends but didn’t need any. Having friends for Timmy was a
degrading thing. They just wanted to play with matchbox cars and pick each others boogars. But Timmy had higher aspirations. Eventually he wanted to work for NASA and be an astronomical engineer. Math came easy (obviously) to Timmy, he would often get slightly hard when it seemed apparent that he would get the answer right. He could feel the pressure an excitement mount as the answer began to form in his young mind… and then... the building boner that rose as if to say “hooray!” And throw its hat into the air. Sometimes Timmy got so hard he would have to masturbate in the bathroom. He’d feel slightly guilty after doing it.. but then feeling refreshed, he would brush off the guilt and he would return to his room ready for another problem. He would get back onto the carpet in his room and zoom through with his keen mind through the text book. His young piercing gaze was almost like magnifying glass, for if he concentrated anymore it would seem that the paper might catch on fire. The square root of 4- x squared times the derivative of x. With the limit of 2 over 0. He got hard just thinking of the symbols.. just reading them in his head to himself would get him already half way there… he could feel some carpet burn building where it mattered.. the fire. Sometimes if Timmy just looked at an equation like this he could almost feel the answer, it was weird. It was almost like he could feel something in his brain… and an unconscious swelling into his mouth… the answer would come. It often wasn’t even a conscious effort. Where the answer would come he could not say.. but he got hard… he knew that much.
But there were occasions where he would have to go to the calculator to work something out. He didn’t understand why sometimes the answer would form like a warbling dove in this mind and fall out of his mouth, and why other times it didn’t happen. When he did go to the calculator he felt like a little bit of a failure… and worried sometimes that his gift would leave him someday… forever.. and the horror of being an ordinary matchbox player and boogar picker was absolutely horrifying to him. He would look at a photo he had of himself with Bobby Macdonald and Ricky Reynolds, two consummate boogar pickers and match box players and he would gristle and bristle and shutter in horror that he would be reduced to one of them. When his father would force him to go out sometimes on the weekends with Bobby and Ricky, Timmy would pretend to like them… but it was tough doing. From Timmy’s point of view, they were a couple of ruffians, a couple of barbarians attempting to get into the steps, the shored castle walls of his exquisite mind, but why could never comprehend the diamond of a mind he had. They were fools, and Timmy knew it, his chest would expand a bit when he would look into their eyes and see that vacuous stare… those black holes , those empty souls whose highest pursuits were I show you mine if you show me yours. Whether it was each others privates or train sets.. either one it didn’t matter.
Timmys father was worried about Timmy. He thought he was strange. “Why isn’t Timmy more like how I was” he would say to himself. I liked playing baseball in the neighborhood with the other boys. I enjoyed in the summer time running through the neighborhood sprinklers and spending time at their pools. But he’s so different, all he does is go into his room and study those math problems. And he’s always making those strange nostril sounds… that blowing of air through his nose passage.. its like he is some kind of mutant. He often wondered to himself how he could have produced someone like Timmy. He felt guilty often because he found himself not really liking him that much and would think to himself what a heel he must be to feel and think such feelings. Timmy’s fathers name was Joe. Joe would console himself that he had a daughter that thankfully turned out fairly alright, but he couldn’t quell the wish the he had been given a boy who was more like himself…. He paused… “you know like that song in my fair lady… why couldn’t a woman be more like a man? Why couldn’t a woman be more like me?” Except in this case it was why couldn’t my son be more like me? It was two years before that Joe had finally given up trying to conform Timmy to his wishes. Joe forced Timmy to go with him to a football game to see the Oakland Raiders play the Seattle Seahawks. When Joe asked Timmy if he would like to go with his father to the game Timmy snottily rolled his eyes as if he were talking to a neanderthal. When Joe saw the contempt Timmy had for him in those “rolling snotty little shits eyes” ( he felt a mix of horror that he had such hatred for his own son and also pure rage at the snot that stood before him) Joe demanded that Timmy come with him. He grabbed him by his shirt collar and said with a violent tremor in his voice, “ You little shit! Your coming with me to the game whether you like it or not… I am sick and tired of you acting like you own the place around here!”
Just at that moment Timmy’s mother Sharon peered through the kitchen window at her husband lifting their son off of the ground, Joe got a glance of her through the side of his right eyeball and saw immedietely what her look said,it said “You bastard, leave him alone… I hate you.” Joe let up on the hold he had on Timmy and let him to the floor. “I’m sorry Timmy, I just get upset when you roll those hateful eyes at me. “ “ Do I have to go?” Timmy asked. Joe thought for a second and said to himself, “Yes he has to go … I don’t care what Sharon thinks, I’m tired of being a second class citizen in my own home.
“Yes! You have to go! Get your jacket on… we must leave in 20 minutes!” Joe didnt bother looking over at his wife after saying this, he didn’t want to have to read her eyes of hatred.
Timmy went to his room and thought “oh good, I can do another problem. He went back to the floor, slid into position like he indeed were playing baseball. He thought to himself, “yea. I’m a baseball player dad, but only in my room alone, not for an ass like you. “If a man is traveling to the moon on a full tank of gas in his rocket, and his rocket can hold a total of 1000 gallons, but there is a leak in that tank that is draining at a rate of….” Timmy could feel himself getting hard already. “ if a gallon can allow for a thousand miles of travel, and the acceleration of speed is x value, given the rate of fuel loss in the tank…” That was it… Timmy went to the bathroom that was in his room and got out the Vaseline and some toilet paper tissue and began to massage his member.
“ Timmy !” His father called in… Timmy quickly pulled up his pants, “Timmy! We have to get going!”
“Allright dad, I will be right there.” Joe wasn’t used to this deferential language that Timmy used, he actually called him “Dad”.
Joe was skeptical. “What are you doing in there?!”
“I’ll be out in a second dad, I’m just going to the bathroom.” Joe could hear the toilet paper roll and turn and then the sound of a bottle being placed in the cabinet shelf. “ My god… my god he’s jacking off! My god maybe he is my boy after all!” Joe was so proud, a broad grin replaced his stern look he had on before, “ No problem son! Take your time!” Joe peered into the kitchen and saw Sharon looking at him in a scowl, but her scowl didn’t matter… Joe’s irrepressible smile was almost permanent, he could hardly bring it down, he was so pleased that his son finally showed some common interest as himself. His eyes sparkled, he looked out the porch window with a new sense of joy. Just then Timmy’s door opened, and out appeared Timmy. “ What happened son? I thought for a second you fell in the toilet or something.” Joe said still beaming with elation. Timmy made a slight nervous smile and said, “yea sorry about that I… “ “No problem son!” Joe interjected. “ Oh we will have things to talk about in the car! I’m so proud of you son… and thank you for coming to the game with me.”
“Well I thought I had to…” Timmy replied.
This was the first time that Joes smile had been brought down a semi angle, there was still a smirk but the lips were no longer beaming like they had been. “ Don’t you want to go to the game with your father son?”
“ Well I have a couple more prob…”
“ No! You are coming with your father tonight to the game! No more math problems for you for the night!”
Timmy and Joe walked towards the front door to leave, and just as they did, and Joes face was still flushed from his renewed anger, he sheepishly lifted a peep at his wife still standing stern in the kitchen. “ We will see you around midnight honey, with the traffic and all, you know how long it takes…” There was no reply from his wife and Timmy and his father proceeded to exit the house.
Night had fallen already as they approached the car to get inside. It was an AMC Gremlin. A little green -monster of a car.. large enough to barely fit Timmy and Joe. Joe looked ridiculous in it, his body now overweight from middle age, he was like an air bag that had already opened, his coat and body almost bursting out of the partly cracked windows. It was a stick shift, and Joe loved to feel the power of the car in his hand, “it was almost like jacking off” he thought to himself. Joe ha never articulated what the feeling was of driving a stick shift, but if his unconscious could speak, if it could leak out into some verbal articulation in his brain it would say, “ Oh yea.. I love the power, the feel of the leather and the bag at the bottom of the shaft.. Oh Yea!” As he accelerated into 3rd gear. Both Timmy and Joe’s heads rocked back slightly violently as Joe pressed the pedal with a needed sense of control… as if in every accelerating gear the massage was being sent to Timmy, “ I’m in control now!”
There was dead silence in the car for several minutes, as Timmy would occasionally peer over at his father watching the incoming traffic headlights crossing his father face like spiders. Timmy immediately started trying to calculate the movement of the light and shadows in mathematical form. Given the amount of time that it took for the light to reach his fathers face, and the speed at which the cars passed added the speed of his fathers car moving forward at 55 mph
“ Son…” Joe started…
Timmy was irritated by his fathers interruption of the wonderful thoughts he was just having.
“ Son… “ Joe started again as he finally put the car into 5th gear… almost like the waiting to get to the real purpose of the drive was to wait till 5th gear, till everything got settled, and then to start asking questions about… about… the dreaded but wonderful topic of sex. Timmy was still annoyed that a beautiful thought had been so rudely broken into.. Joe was trying to think about how to go about easing the topic of discussion in without being too abrupt. He didn’t know much about his son, he thought his son was weird, a mutant that breathed heavily through his nostrils who seemed to only care about math.
“ Son, how is school?”
Timmy ad begun to look at the spider movements of light acrosss his fathers face, “ Its alright” he answered more lost in concentration on the light patterns that were now spiraling around th entire back seat of the car because his father had just taken a turn.
“ I forgot, we need to get gas.. we’re running low.”
Immediately at the pronunciation of the word “gas”, Timmy thought of his rocket problem to the moon, and he began to get hard.
“ Give me more than alright” His father continued. “ What’s alright about it?”
“Well I like math class at the University.”
“ No I mean your normal elementary school classes… yo know, the normal ones. Like English, do you like English class?”
“ Not really” Timmy said unenthusiastically, implying that not only the topic of discussion was boring but so was being with his father and the prospect of going to a stupid football game.
“ Do you like your friends at South Chatterly? (South Chatterly being the name of the school)
“ Not really”, Timmy repeated.
Joe thought about it for a second, and decided to just dive in, knowing how hard it was talking to his son about anything. “ How bout girls? Do you have any… I don’t mean girlfriends as in like sweethearts, but just friends. Friends that happen to be girls”
“ No” Timmy said rather uncomfortably.
They pulled into the gas station and a man came out to offer full-service but Joe drove by him and waved him off as to indicate that he was going to continue on to the self serve island.
Joe began to feel a real contempt for his son. He hated the way his son laconically said,” No”, “not really”.
Joe was just about to reach for the car door handle when he stopped and turned to his son and said, “ Son, I have a question I want you to ponder while I am pumping the gas and going into pay for it. I want you to think about where you think you might be in ten years from now. Where do you see yourself? Will you be living in California? Will you be going to college? And if so to which one? Studying I would assume Math, but what else,” and her came the real crux of what he was getting to, “ Do you thin you might get married? You know.. have a wife and a family with kids? Or… maybe you see yourself as single. You think about it ok?” He turned to look into his son’s eyes, and the distance between them seemed as far to both of them as Timmys math problem, a rocket from earth to the moon. “ Can you do that for me son? Your father worries about you and your future, think it over and when I get back we will discuss it ok?” Joe looked again into his sons eyes, and indeed Timmy was calculating the distance between them, not in emotional terms like his father was, but in quantitative terms.
Timmy thought, “ if there are indeed other dimensions in the world, and like that article I was just reading where our lives are breaking off like branches into other dimensions depending on which decisions or choices we make, like the thing about the “Schroedingers cat”, where there is a dimension where the cat lives and one where the cat dies, if I say “ok” to my father will a part of me break off into anoth…
“ Son! Look at me!” For a second Joe thought that maybe his son was on drugs or something, but then thought that it was highly unlikely that at the age of 10 drugs would already be in the elementary schools.
“Yes! I will think about it!” Timmy irritatedly replied.
“ Thank you son, just think it over, I don’t want to put too much pressure on you.” Joe opened the car door and closed the door behind him. Timmy could smell the gas from the station pour into the car. He got an immediate erection. The fumes stimulated his thoughts onto that problem again. “ If a rocket is traveling to the moon and can carry 1000 gallons of fuel.. but has a leak… given the acceleration of….”
As Timmy saw his father outside of the car walking around and putting the pump in the tank, and then proceeding to wash the windows with the rubber blade, he thought to himself, “ How in the world did I ever have him for a father? This complete idiot?” He watched as his father frustratingly lifted the wiper blades up off from the shield, stumbling on some apparent trash on the ground, and then cursing out loud, and then walking around to the back of the car to get the rear window. “ What was the question again that he wanted me to ask myself?” Timmy paused to think, as he mind kept wanting to get lost onto that problem involving the rocket. “Oh yea, where I saw myself in ten years. Work for NASA hopefully. I just want to do math problems. Am I going to go to college? I would suppose so… with an intellect like mine I’m sure I will go to Harvard or something. Timmy looked into the gas station window and watched his father paying the black man at the counter for the gas. They appeared to be arguing about something. This peaked Timmy’s interest. “ What could they be arguing about?” He asked himself. The argument seemed to be getting more and more heated. They were pointing fingers at eachother and Timmy saw spit flying from both of their mouths.
Joe came out of the station storming and red in the face. He abruptly opened the car door and got in.
“ What was that all about?” Timmy asked.
“ Nothing that a ten year old should know about. Your too young, some day…” Joe paused and calmed down for a second as his breath and lungs began to slow from the drama that had just taken place in the store. “ Some day Timmy, perpaps when your older I will explain to you a few adult things or two, but in the mean time we have a foot ball game to catch.
Joe and Timmy drove together mostly in silence to the game between the Raiders and the Seahawks, and during the entire night he never did ask Timmy about where he saw himself in ten years, and Timmy never asked about it either. The Raiders won 24-7.
My names Rory Shaker, I live on West Palm Beach. I work out a lot. Im bronzed like a God. Chiseled and sculpted like a powerful Prometheus. I like to head on down to the beach in my speedo and watch the ladies giggle at my bulge. My quads are wads of sinews and muscle. I like to take a jog down the shoreline and feel my ass cheeks pounding in the breeze with my every stride. I can feel my muscles ripple as I glide the line of the water. My waterboard abs could rinse several garments clean and dry. My chest is so big my breasts are like women’s, only
they are all packed and hardened in brawn, testosterone pumped fiber. When I pass the ladies and hear them giggle I turn my neck and the sinews spread like a web and I give them a wink, and then continue on in my heroic journey down the sands of time. I especially enjoy the feel the sun glistening on my golden pectorals.
I work out about 4 times a week. There is nothing I like better than to wake up the next day and feel my sore laterals beside me under the bed, or my calves swollen from yesterdays battle in the gym. Or to feel my biceps pulsate from fatigue. I feel robust like a lion resting under his tree, scanning the world before me as I sit in bed and flex my gluteus maxis. I like to sleep naked in silk sheets and feel my balls rest on my thighs. To feel the air through my crotch and anus.
I usually have about 3 different women a week. I’m 50 years old but you’d never know it. I look like Cary Grant but with the body of a lean Arnold Scwarznegger. I know I know, some don’t like a too bulky man, so I am bulky but also lean. Most of the women I get are 20- 30 years younger than I am. I like to get up in the morning and look at myself in the buff. Pump a breast each, and then fix myself some breakfast.
Breakfast usually consists of the breakfast of champions. I have my Kelloggs corn flakes and I enjoy peering out onto the oncoming waves of the beach. For I live right on the beach. That’s why its often so easy for me to snare some young snatch right off the sand and bring her not my lions lair; My den or man cave so to speak. I don’t like coffee. Its impure. I drink a protein shake that I blend myself in my blender. I mix 4 cups of low fat skim milk, 10 strawberries, a banana, a half cup of chocolate protein powder, 30 blueberries. I’m really into blueberries lately, I read a real good article in the Wall Street Journal about the benefits and antioxidants to be found in blueberries. I even read where they help prevent Alzheimers. After I hav had my breakfast I waltz down into my basement where I have a full gymnasium set replete with running track and stair masters, and a stationary bike. Basically I have it all right in my own home. When I waltz down the steps into my basement I like to tense a muscle here and there just to feel the exhilaration of being alive. My basement gym is layered and loaded with mirrors on all sides so that I can see every angle of my ass or deltoid or whatever it may be that I am working on at that particular moment. When I rest back and do my favorite set of reps, the bench press, I love to arch my back like a lion and spread my legs wide in preparation for the great challenge that awaits me. I put two sets of 45 lbs weights on each side of the bar. So that would be a hundred and eighty pounds, added the bar which itself weighs another 35 lbs. Not bad Hugh? For a fifty year old man? 215 lbs? I know a lot of 25 year olds that can’t do that.
I work out for about 2 hours and then I take a shower. I often sing a song in the shower. I have a wonderful voice if I do say so myself; had I had some training I could have been a real star. The two friends I have in the world both say that they think I sound like Frank Sinatra. I often sing “Love Me Tender” and “Its now or never”. Elvis is a favorite of mine as well. As I rinse my sinewy body clean of soap and watch it run down my sculpted legs and thighs, I can feel myself in clay form, bronzed and molded into Gods image. When I get out of the shower I put on a clean speedo and dash out the sliding glass doors sometimes not even bothering to lock the door behind. I get so exuberant in my anticipation of the shore line and the nymphs that await I can’t be bothered. I get up very early, right at the crack of dawn with hardly even a yawn. I greet the day with a broad chest and grin with thanksgiving for the bounty that awaits. Im usually out onto the beach no later than 7:30am. I run at least 20 miles. Ten up the shoreline and ten back. I make it a hard and fast rule never to do anything less. Sometimes I clip the underbelly of my speedo so that flaps open like a Tarzan strap, I love to fell the breeze flow through my balls when I run. Usually when I start the jaunt, barely anyone is sunbathing, but by the time I start to make the round back the little angels start to appear like swans in a pond, her a goose, there a duck, there another water fowl I havent been able to identify quite right. But it doesnt matter, all of the ladies are good enough for me. Ive even had three at a time before. They like to feather my chest and comb my hair with their delicate hands. Another fans my balls while I work out doing squats.
When I return from the 20 mile trek I like to saunter and slow to a jog and then walk slowly like a rough beast rolling his thighs on the hunt. Im not dangerous though, Im a silly harmless lion who enjoys a good prowl. I wear gold necklaces, one is the sign of the cross, another is a silver bullet I like to wear because my favorite show as a child was the Lone Ranger. I’ll approach a couple of girls sprawled out onto a couple of beach blankets, almost totally naked except a couple of strands of a bikini. I usually start the conversation this way. “ What a glorious day!” And they usually reply something in the lines of, “ Oh yes isn’t it?” Then I usually will follow up with “ I just finished a run up the pass and saw some of the most magnificent beach line, the hills were spectacular and the waves were crashing so dramatically on the rocks.” I usually give the old pectorals a couple of pumps and then proceed, “ Are you gals from around here?”
“No , were from Nebraska.”
“ Oh really? Why brings you all the way down here to God’s country?” I usually add a wink in just to liven things up a bit.“ Well my friend here, Sarah, goes to Northwood University near by…so I am just visiting. So I guess I should have said that I was not from here but my friend is." “ Oh really? So your friends name is Sarah… what is yours may I ask?” There is always a level of creepiness that you have to walk the line through, it is a very very fine line between charming and creepy, and I have mastered the tight rope walk if I do say so myself.
But there are some times that the fish just aren’t biting and one never takes it personal. If things don’t work out I just sprint back to my man cave and save my ego by doing a few more curls, push ups or one of my favorites, the double back bender. ( It’s too complex to explain here.)
After the run I, if I havent ensnared some eyelash fanning fish onto my line, I usually work out for another hour to power off the loss and shake the distress of having lost the catch. You may wonder how it is that I make my money? Im an actor. I am what they call in the film industry as a professional extra. I am asked to walk down a sidewalk, or sit in a diner and pretend to read the newspaper. You may wonder how in the world I can afford my life style, but you would be amazed at the kind of money you can make as a professional extra. Don’t tell anybody though ok? I don’t want to many people to know. They might move in on my paradise. On this particular day I have a shoot down in Miami, we are doing a rerun updated version of Miami Vice from the 80’s, with all of the old actors and actresses, (the ones who are still alive) I guess its kind of a season Holiday special. My job from what I can gather is to run naked across a football field, apparently I am supposed to be a streaker. I think the part is perfect for me, don’t you? The job is going to pay 4,000 dollars. It would have been 8,000 had I joined the union, but I hate the herd, I never wanted to be some loser in a union. So I have taken a cut, but if you figure in all of the union dues you have to pay, in the end you don’t really make that much more being a part of the union. Usually a shoot will last the whole afternoon, and but time I get home I like to shower up again and rinse the days grease off of my body. Usually at night I will call up a buddy of mine and we will go out and have a bite to eat at one of the diners on the boardwalk. I have two real close pals that I can always rely on to be there for me. (Which believe me isn’t often. A lion like me rarely needs anyone but himself to lean on.) I will have a couple of glasses of wine but no more. Wine is very fattening and I need to keep the physique as trim and fat free as possible. My tow best buds are Wilbur and Fred. I know, they don’t sound like real winners, but believe me that are the best pals a guy can have. Both of them are a little on the plump side. Wilbur is soft and pale white, and almost sweaty in his rolls of soft white fat. He often wears a hat on top of his head that looks a bit like someone topped his head off with some whip cream. To be frank, Wilbur looks a bit like an ice-cream sundae. And Fred is just the opposite. He is tall and lanky, bony and skeletal. He looks a bit like Abe Lincoln but even thinner. He’s is gaunt and ghostly, and the shadows under his eyes make him look also a bit like Dr Kevorkian. But can you believe? Looks aren’t everything to me. They are to me, for me, but for my friends I don’t need them to be bronzed and golden God’s such as myself. I try and get the guys into the gym with me once in a while. Especially Wilbur to burn off some of that peppermint bon bon swirl that he has going. But they usually decline.
Fred is a real intellectual. He likes to read all these philosophers, especially Kirkegaard. Fred is always talking about death and how everything is empty, how nothing matters in the end, he is always taking about how pointless existence is, and I admit he is kind of a downer, it’s just that I never have been able to really prove him wrong. Fred is real smart. He went to college and got a degree in engineering. He wanted to be an aviation designer working for the government specializing in war aircraft. But it never worked out for him. He told me there is so much competition that its almost impossible to break into the field. So Fred makes his living as an accountant.
Wilbur works at an ice cream factory. Can you believe? I didnt mention that before… I guess we become our environment after a while. I never thought of that, maybe that is why he looks like cookies and cream. Maybe I think of him as kind of an ice cream sundae because I have seen him wear that white hat that chefs wear sometimes, and that has kind of cemented into my head that soft downy white blubber look. He’s a good guy. Wilbur is a little bit of what the guys would call a “pussy”. Super nice guy… almost too nice. You wonder if he has a back bone or anything under all of that fat. I feel bad calling him fat, but that is kind of what he is. Wilbur is quiet and isn’t really good with the gals. I try and give him some of my expertise, but he doesn’t listen real well either. Both he and Fred aren’t real good listeners I have noticed. I give them all sorts of advice on how to improve their lives and they nod in the affirmative, but then when we leave each other after our meals the next days, weeks, months, nothing changes. I give them those self help books and the positive motivational videos. But again, nothing really works.
After the meal with one or both of the guys, I will return home and by that time it is getting on to 9 pm. I will watch some news on T.V and then read a little bit of the Wall Street Journal for a half hour or so. Occasionally I will head o down to the basement and work out for another half hour. I even have a pair of dumb bells right next to my bed side where if I feel in the mood I can quickly jump out of bed and do a few reps.
You may look at me as kind of pathetic. Like some guy who speaks a good line on how he can get all these gals but when the reality is I spend most of my nights lifting dumb bells and sleeping alone naked in silk sheets. This isn’t true, I swear. I do get laid here and there. This lion is no fool. Although I admit at night, occasionally I wish I had a real lover, a wife, someone more than just a one night stand. When I listen to the ocean surf, the turf of sand, I can almost hear the stars shining outside my window, and that slow hypnotic low roar and rush of the hushing waves, that seem to wash my mind clean of all of my sins, wearing down the calcified rock of my hardened mind, I wish sometimes that I could find a real love. But then I think of poor Wilbur and Fred. And I think, shit compared to them I am doing pretty well.
One night I was resting and reading the newspaper and watching the news when there came a rapping at my door. I thought it rather strange that at the late hour someone would be giving me a house call. I put on my robe and slippers, for Im usually naked throughout the day. I like to have the windows open and to have the ocean breeze flow through the night drapes weave in and through the furniture in the home and the sculptures on the tables and on in and through my crotch. I put on my robe and slippers and went to open the door. Before I did, I peeked though the door window out at the silhouetted face at the front step. I had a hard time at first, but then I saw in the moonlight when the stranger turned his face that it was Wilbur. I quickly opened the door, and greeted Wilbur, “ Wilbur! What on earth are you doing out at this hour? Is everything ok?” Wilbur seemed even more casper milk toast than usual.
“ Yes, sorry to bother you so late Rory, I just was in the neighborhood. I went out with a buddy and had a couple drinks and decided to stop by since I was over here anyway.”
“ Well I’m glad you did!” I wasn’t really glad to be honest. I like my comfort in the evening resting on the sofa and watching tv. “ Come on in”
“ Thank you Rory. Are you sure I’m not intruding? You dont have one of your dames over in you den for the evening?”
“ No, no ladies are with me tonight. I wish they were but.” I answered. I noticed that Wilbur had his shirt half unbuttoned which was unusual for him. You could really see that soft downy skin that looked like vanilla ice cream and he seemed all sweaty and urgent with some hidden itching need. He had a little chest hair that looked all knotted up in little curls. Kind of like little piglet tails.
“ Would you like something to drink Wilbur? Scotch? Scotch and water? Gin and tonic?” I normally don’t drink much like I mentioned but maybe a couple of glasses of wine a couple nights a week. But by the looks of Wilbur, he made me nervous just looking at him. If Wilbur said yes, I think I would indeed join him.
“ Yes, well I don’t mind if I do. Gin and tonic please.” He requested.
“I think I will join you old pal. I’m a bit in the mood myself.” I fixed us both a glass of G and T’s. “Let’s sit down over on the sofa. I have been watching some news but I can turn that off.” I looked at his face again, and he seemed weird. He seemed extra squishy than normal. So gooey and marshmallowy to the eye that I started to feel that my masculinity was in danger. I took another glance just to make sure that I was seeing everything correct. Yes, yes he definitely appeared extra soft to the senses this evening. I spruced myself up on the sofa and pumped a couple pecks of the chest to reaffirm my sense of self that seemed to be fading every time I looked at Wilbur.
“ Did you hear? The Dolphins won big this weekend.”
“Yes I heard” Wilbur replied with almost a lisp. I had never heard it before, but there it definitely was, a definite lisp.
“ Boy you don’t get em tougher than that Henderson Hernandez”, I continued “man does he kill em out there. I saw a play where he absolutely demolished this guy. Rubbed his nose in the mud after the play. I couldn’t believe he didn’t get a fag. I mean flag!” Oh shit, I made a Freudian slip. I peered over at Wilbur and he had this sappy feminine grin on his face.
“Oooh, oops you said fag.” He said fruitier that the fruitiest of flies.
“ So tell me Wilbur, what brings you over tonight?” I nervously held myself up against the avalanche of fruitiness I felt myself falling into.
“ Well I have been going onto these dating sites, and I just can’t seem to find anyone.”
“Yes, good, I told you to do that. Don’t give up, they are hard to break into, but believe me when you do I have heard nothing but great things from them.” I felt comforted that the discussion was feeling less perverted in its terrain and moving towards more stable ground in a more heterosexual flavor of things.
“ I just can’t seem to find anyone.” He repeated.
“Yes you said that before. Did you mention your hobbies? How you collect train sets?” I inquired.
“ Yes I did all the things you told me to the last time we spoke. You know what I am coming to the conclusion Rory? Do You know?” He was getting emotional and really flaky and all I could think was that he was going to tell me that he has discovered that he is gay.
“ No I don’t know Wiblur, what’s the conclusion?” I braced myself and downed a big stiff swallow of gin.
“ I think I have fallen in love with you Rory.”
I quickly got up to refill my drink “Well Wilbur. How many drinks did you say you’ve had tonight already?”
“ Oh yes fix me another too would you Rory my friend.” He reached over the back of the sofa in a really feminine manner and his hair was feathered in a real pretty way.
“ Are you sure you should have more Wilbur? You sure are acting strange tonight pal.”
“It’s your body Rory. Your body is drop dead hot. Your like a fucking Greek God!” He said and then Wilbur started giggling like a little girl. At this point I knew I was dealing with a real crack up. Then he turned on his back like a turtle that had been flipped over and his arms and legs were wiggling and waving in the air. The guy had completely shelled his nut.
“ Well I do my best… I do my best.” I was at a loss. I didn’t know what to say. Here I was fixing more drinks for us presumably so the evening could continue on longer into the night, when all I wanted to do was get the fuck out of my own home and away from him by a thousand miles. I’m not a homophobe mind you, but I just had been caught off guard. And I confess there were times that I thought it possible that I may have a gay streak in my that ran through me perhaps twenty percent to be exact. I consoled myself thinking that most men probably have some homosexual tendencies. I mean look at those Greeks after all. It’s just if I we’re gay, it would have to be on a very special night with a particular person, it might happen like once in ten years followed by thousands of nights with women. But it was never going to be with soft casper milk toast downy dough boy sweaty white and clammy Wilbur. It jut wasn’t going to happen! I consoled myself.
“ here, take your drink pal. Wilbur can I be honest friend? I think something else is going on here. I have never in all of my years known you to go gay on me. Whats up? Did you get fired from your job?” I got serious.
“ No, I was just thinking about it tonight, and thought of you in your bronzed body all golden and god like running the beach almost in the total nude every morning as if the Gods themselves had molded you in their image.”
“ I can’t believe you just said that… I was just saying that to myself earlier. But go on…” I said relieved that I could at least relate to something that he was saying.
“ And I thought he must be gay, no man could be that good looking and care about his looks and body that much and not be gay.” He said with increased relish like he was discovering something about me which I did not know myself and he had the special dibs and goods on me.. he had this really excited wet and happy look on his face. He was perspiring with a kind of happy fervor and glee. I felt gay just looking at him.
“ Well I assure you I am not!” I answered feeling myself slip into a homosexual stance, my left hip slanted downwards and my hand went onto my hip as I looked at his face that was turning more and more queer as I peered into his eyes. I wanted to vomit but I couldn’t deny that I felt fruiter that a Christmas fruit cake.
“ Look! Here is your drink!” I walked over to him and I could feel my ass cheeks switch together in an extremely feminine fashion.
A Teddy Bear Named Peppy
In Chicago the year of 1945, I was murdered. My name is Lila Francelli and I speak to you now from the beyond. Let me tell you my story. I was sleeping one hot and humid summer night with my stuffed animal Peppy, and my curtains were blowing in the stifling suffocating air. The breeze was allowing me a bit of relief, but the air was warm and heavy, and gave only the slightest of alleviation. I was wearing my little pink blouse and night gown and my mother and father were down stairs listening to the evening radio. There had been a number of murders throughout the summer months, and it was already into mid August. School would be starting for me very soon, and I was excited to begin a new school year. But these series of killing of young girls had freaked out the city. There had already been four killings and the town was on high alert for them so stop and for the culprit to be apprehended.
The man who killed me, his name was Gaul Mcfadden. He was 30 years old the time that he killed me. He had been a man who was a walking hard on. He was homeless and young, testosterone was building inside of him every night, driving him crazy. He was haunted and tortured by the hot package that needled him. He was a loser, or so the world told him he was, and so he decided to play the role that was foisted upon him. He said it was like walking around all day with a hot pistol shoved and pressed against your back, giving one no relief. He said that women had no idea what it was like to be a man, that they don’t see the invisible suffering that they have to endure, being tortured everyday by your own personal gun pricking you every minute, every hour.
Gaul would walk the streets with alone and frustrated often among the talking out loud insane, screaming outloud to themselves the injustices that they had to endure. How could a loser like Gaul ever find a woman to love? Gaul was originally from Boston, but had moved out to Chicago during the depression. He was a run away from a foster home at the age of 15. Crime is a slippery slope, once you start it it is hard to get out. You start to make a record, people hear about it, no one will hire you because of it, and so your forced into crime yet again. A vicious cycle.
Empathy for the helpless victim: Of course. Who wouldnt feel horrible about what happened to me? A man crept into my window in the middle of the night and abducted and raped and then killed me, a poor helpless girl. The worst crime I had ever committed was telling my parents that I had gone to bed when in actuality I was under the covers with a flashlight reading Betsy Tacy Tib books. With empathy for the obvious victim, immediately there is a dichotomy, a split. Right and wrong, the Good and Bad. The world is divided forever. The evil have won. They got what they wanted, they divided and conquered. I was the innocent good person, he was the horrible monster. Empathy for the victim has no guts or depth though. Everyones immediate our reaction is to empathize with the sacrificial lamb. And in feeling for only the sufferer of injustice, we can never solve the riddle of evil. We are stymied into a loss for understating. Left bereft on the surface on the ocean waves of the tragedy, left bobbing at a loss at having lost our loved one into the depths of the cold black dark sea of indifference. I was a darling of a child. I was meek and mild. I wanted to please my parents and I liked it when kids at school liked me and I liked them. I was a sociable girl who loved people. I wanted everyone on the whole planet to love and be loved equally. In empathizing solely with me, you are showing the world and society that you are a normal, average caring member of society who doesnt think too deeply about these things. And perhaps doesn’t want to. Right and wrong are clearly defined. It is possible that some who empathize with the victim solely do so not because they really feel empathy, but because they want to bo do-gooders that ingratiate themselves into good places of high society. In short, they say they empathize with the victim for their own well being. A danger in being solely for the victim is in becoming a fervid warrior against all hate and evil. And in the process becoming hateful and evil yourself.
Empathy for the perpetrator: This is a dangerous line to cross. For in beginning to try and understand the killer, Gaul McFadden, the monster, the nightmare that we all dread, we are trying to understand the roots of evil. Which human kind has yet in all of its few thousand years of feeble history has yet been able to understand, control, curtail. In exploring our Empathy for the perpetrator we are running a terrible risk of insanity. Like swimming into those dark forbidden depths of our own reptilian psychology in the danger that we may drown, not knowing up or down as we use our flippers and oxygen tank into the unknown depths. The murky wine colored blood dimmed waters of the sea. The depths of our deepest psychology. For in empathizing with the devil, we may become the devil himself. We acknowledge that there is a devil with ourselves. And we ask ourselves, “ Could we be capable of committing such horrid acts of violence and hate?” And the answer inevitably is yes. Especially if one is a male. It is no coincidence that most of the violence committed in society is done by men. When all the propaganda of the day is peeled away and bare reality is revealed, the statistics don’t lie. Men are the killers, the rapists, the hunters of the night, men in general are the aggressive homicidals. What boy when he is age 8 when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up would shyly reply, “ A homicidal maniac”? A person that the whole society shunned and either executed or put away for 40 years. What would make a boy of 8 would make it his ambition to become a killer? Ostracized and hated by all? Violence sells, its tittilating and tantalizing and its not boring. Evil is imaginative. Many of the most creative people in the history of Humankind were tortured by a dark side that pushed them on to create their masterpieces. How many best seller books were based or loosely based on some non fiction character? Evil is exciting. As one man said, its keep the machinery of the world well oiled and purring. Many a potential future killer will take the side of the perpetrator. Understanding the kiilers sad, hard life that drove him to become such a towering demonic tyrant, secretly relishing and identifying with glee at the power that comes with being a whole sale servant of the diabolical, forgetting completely that suffering that I had to endure. Been raped. They side exclusively with their narcissistic selves. Some journalist will write about the perpetrator because it will sell. And they have really no interest in the suffering people of the story, or tragedy that they are writing about. It is merely a monetary concern.
Empathy for Both the Monster and the victim: In taking this stance we are saying like a great playwright who silently removes him or her self from all of the politics of their play, that I am not here to judge what is right and wrong, good and bad. One understands the suffering and terror that I went through when a deranged man drooling at the moist mouth climbed my widow stairwell and pried my the frame open after I had just closed it for the night and took a knife to my neck and closed my mouth violently shut with his palm, muffling me so that I could not scream. One also feels for the killer, that had to walk around all day everyday with a hot gun shoved in his crotch, while he frantically and failingly tried to figure ways to survive and satisfy his basic needs. One is merely here to report what happened, a journalist, like an objective observer removed from the drama of a football game, and merely reports the facts of the case. In taking this stance we are saying we are announcing to the world that we have risen above, transcended evil. Evil is neither good or bad, it just is; Like the moon, or a plate of food. In taking this view people run the risk of not feeling anymore, and not taking an active stance against evil, where it should be fought against tooth and nail. We run the risk of moral relativism and a passive take on evil. Merely watching and taking notes on a genocide that is happening before our very eyes.
Empathy for none: In this position, one neither feel bad nor good for myself having been murdered, nor for the murderer, Gaul McFadden. One has washed ones hands completely of the world, and has decided to not even take notes on the matter, but to just curl up into a hole and sleep away ones life in blissful ignorance. One doesn’t see a good or bad, one has decided to not even listen to the question or the problem. I personally can sympathize with this angle on empathy. Often this is for people who have overdosed on empathy, having looked at all angles of good and evil ad nauseam, that they have tossed their hands into the air and said, “I give up… I will spend the rest of my life working on my stamp collection. And never read the newspaper or internet again. Evil will live on forever. But I will be damned if I will try and understand any of it ever again.”
I had just put away my Betsy Tacy Tib book. I put the black flashlight up on my bedside stand. I just loved how imaginative Betsy was in the stories, all the crazy stories she told to her friends and how she delighted them. I wanted to write someday. To tell stories with a great imagination. I want to have friends, but I also want to be a dedicated writer of fiction. I had already written several short stories in my diary that I personally feel are very entertaining. I like to take members of my family, my mother and father and aunts and uncles, and loosely base characters around them. I loved writing about the interplay of the different characters and how they interacted with one another and frustrated each others plans, and yet in the end really loved one another. I often use my friends as material to create a character. Yes, I wanted to be a writer. To be like Laura Ingalls Wilder or Maud Hart Lovelace. Occasionally I would read my stories to my friends and they would laugh and beg me for more. It made me feel so good to be looked up to, to feel like I had a gift that they didn’t have. That I was special. One time in show and tell class at school, I read one of my home made novels to the class. I had drawn a cover with crayons on cardboard, and tie bound the spine of the book with some yarn. I had drawn in and illustrated little sketches that I thought rally peeked the imagination of the reader. I wouldn’t explain too carefully with the illustrations, because I wanted the reader to have some room for their own imaginations. When I was done reading the story, I think it was entitled, “ The Ice and Snow of Cordelia”. It was about this girl who absolutely loved the snow and ice in the winter and she would make snow men and igloos and kept slipping on the ice
when she would walk around her neighborhood. She would think of how the snow and ice was similar to her own inner world and how she would thaw when she saw a friend, and then freeze when she would see somebody she didn’t like. It was very funny and the class roared with laughter and clapped when I was through. My friends loved it when they saw themselves in the characters I had created. “Cordelia” was a take off of my best friends Carol. We were out playing in the snow one day and she was talking about how much she hated Ralph Dickey. How every time she saw him she froze in discomfort. Ralph was in the class that I read to, and it was like a little secret between myself and Carol, when I was reading I would peep over at Ralph and he was totally clueless that I was writing about him. Then I would peer over at Carol with a glint in my eye, as if to say, “We know who we are talking about don’t we my dear?” She would smirk in reply.
I pulled myself under the bed sheet. It was pitch black. It was so sweltering hot, and uncomfortable, I was sweating all over my night gown. I was absolutely drenched. Just a I began to close my eyes, I felt a light breeze come through the draping white see transparent curtain. And I remembered! My god that maniac is out there! I have to close the window! And so I jumped out of bed and darted over t the window imagining that he was just below and that I had only seconds to reach the handle on the sill orals he would beat me to it. I lunged to the sill, and pulls the rickety warped wooden and pane of planed glass panel shut. “Hew!” , I said to myself. I got it before he did. And I got on my tip toes and peeked out and down the pane of glass, to see if indeed he was down there. All I saw was some garbage cans and the moonlight ricocheting off of its silver aluminum. It had a piercing look like the blade of a knife, though I didn’t consciously think of it at the time.
I hopped back into bed feeling relieved. It was so cramping and intolerable, unbearable really. The choking heat, but it was better than having a window propped open a bit so some maniac could enter my chamber. As I rested in bed, my mind began to go over again what I had just read. That small town in Deep Valley, it seemed so romantic and lovely. Just like her name, the author’s name, lovely. My imagination rolled over the rolling hills of the town nestled between, with the little town steeple and the little people that populated the charming village. It seemed so appealing compared to this giant impersonal monstrosity that was Chicago . Don’t get me wrong, I love Chicago, but at times you long for a more rural setting. Something.. what’s the word? Pastoral? Or bucolic! Thats it. Even sitting up here dead locked away in another dimension, I still like to keep my vocabulary sharp.
I heard a slight rattle at the glass. I thought to myself,” don’t be over dramatic. It is nothing, you simply must get to sleep. You have church tomorrow morning with mom and dad. Tomorrow is a Sunday. “ Mom and dad and myself were all going to go the our local presbyterian church. I personally no longer really believed in God. Can you believe that at age ten I was already a kind of atheist? But I enjoyed the service and the nice people. Also I could use them for my material for my writing. I loved looking at the folks usher in, and I would draw a little picture of them on a little pievce of paper I always carries around, an then I would write a couple things about them underneath. I would collect all of my scraps of ideas and then later I would piece them all together. Oh I took so much pride in my writing. I would never show my ideas to anyone until I felt they had matured into something grand. One time one of my friends wanted to write a story together where she would write one paragraph, and then I would write the next, but I didn’t like it. I was the sole writer in my world. My idea were better, they always were, and if they weren’t I would make darn sure that they would be. I admit I was kind of an elitist snot. But that is what made m writing all the better.
I heard another scrape at the pane. It sounded almost like a lever or bar, or a jimmy. I ran over to the window to see what it was and it was a tree branch rustling up against the frame. My god my heart was pounding and the adrenaline was coursing through my body like an explosion of fumes. I ran back to bed. Oh my god I as so scared. I thought of calling out to my mother to come and comfort me, but then I thought, “my goodness Lila, how old are you now? Surely you don’t need your mother to come into your room anymore.” So I nestled in deeper into the bed and sheet.
I lay in bed for about an hour with my eyes fixed on the ceiling. I heard a train in the distance and that railing sound of iron and steel, and the trailing sound of its horn piercing the night. thclattering hypnotic spell of a train, going places and yet going nowhere. The sound of the train was soothing in its familiarity. I heard it every night in my dreams, and a team of images would spiral throughout my mind in a wonderful escape into a dreamscape of my unconscious mind. I began to doze, climbing my mind in increased almost drugged landscapes of vignettes, silhouettes of ideas crossing the stage of my mind, I heard myself gasp in a slight warm snore, the drug of sleep was setting in, my eyes nodded closed.
A hand covered my mouth and face. At first I thought the sheet had accidentally been inhaled by my breathe, then my thought went to it my mother coming in to wake me for church, but it was still dark out, so … and then the dreaded notion the it was the killer. Indeed it was the killer, at the moment I thought it I knew it was true, and for some odd reason I did not have adrenaline coursing through my veins. Now that I knew it was him the anxiety of not know was what really caused the adrenaline. Can you imagine that for a second I actually thought that I was glad that the killer was in my room, so then I could writer about it later. It was good material. Of course being so young, I had no idea of the danger that I was really in and that these were my last few hours of life here on earth.
I let out a shriek! But his hand was so muffled around the rim of my mouth that nothing was able to space into the outside world. I knew it was a man, for I felt his rough palm embalming my face; it was a weathered and leather hand that could never have been a womans. His hands smelled of nicotine, and they were stained in kind of putrid yellow. A little moonlight was coming through the window and I could see the discoloration of his hands. The sheet had been torn off of me, and I looked at his face, but it was covered in a mask. All I saw were those two jet black eyes like black beetles, without light, they had no light in them. That was what I noticed most… there was no sparkle. Not a glint.
Then the thought did cross my mind. Can’t believe this is happening to me. The worst possible nightmare to be imagines is happening to me, this is not a dream. I violently opened and closed my eyes to make sure that I was not dreaming. “No,” I concluded, this is no dream. “ He taped my mouth shut with some rough textured adhesive, swung me around his shoulder, and he shouldered me through the break in the glass. My arm got cut on a shard and he jammed me though the break. He carried me down the fire escape. The night was silent. As silent as a big city could possibly be. Not a sole around. I saw an alley cat dart behind some cans as he ran with me draped over him. I bounced my head on his back.. His back was as sweaty as mine. He smelled something awful. Like he hadn’t taken a shower in like years. Im sure that was indeed the case. I heard him say, “ shut up bitch. your going to get yours … oh are you going to get yours. We disappeared like ghosts into the night. Sillhoetted in a nightmare of reality. I was never to be heard from again. I was lost forever into the night. He was never caught. He took me to a local darkly lit park. Being killed is not a pleasant thing. After he raped me and beat me, he took out his dagger and plunged it tenfold into by semen stained belly and carved me out like a turkey for Thanksgiving. When the knife cut into my spinal chord and Ic Ould feel it go all the way through my body and soul, the pain was excruciating. I felt like an electric current run like ten thousand volts thought my whole body, I went frozen and rigid, just like Carol did when she saw Ralph Im’ sure, my hair was almost set on fire by the electric current of pain that shocked my whole system. I could feel the dying of my breathe with the last plunge of his dagger, like a ghost, my lips caught a gasp of air, and then I left my body. I rose above both of us, and looked down upon him still stabbing my lifeless body. He collected all of my mangled body parts and guts, and threw me into some brush not far from Lake Michigan. My spirit continued to rise into the night sky and into the earths atmosphere and then is seemed like I caught onto a hi way of spirits like strands of light whisps of currents collecting together and I could hear other spirits speaking to me. We travelled onwards to what seemed like infinite light years.
Names Ronnie Samaha. I own a recording studio and record company in Los Angeles, California. I have recorded some of the greats. Steve Miller, The Who, Tina Turner, Peter Frampton, and many more just to name a few. I’m getting a little older now but I try and keep abreast with what is going on in the music community and try my darnedest to stay current in the industry. I really enjoy giving the up and coming generation a chance to shine. I have learned to like rap and hip and hop and a lot of what they call indie music. I worked once with a fella that went by the name of Alfalfa Sprout. He had this really weird sound he put together on several recording tracks in his home studio. How should I begin to explain it? His music? It was like liquid psychedelia, strange shuffles that repeated and reverberated around the speaker system. He had panned the music so it would slowly shift from one end to the other. It was like he had broken up the music into little cut up bits and then reshuffled it all together again. I was blown away. I knew we had a winner with his guy. And what I call a winner is someone who is going to make me money. I hate to boil it down to such basics… but that is what it comes down to. Like old Bobby D said, “money doesnt talk, it swears!”
Well to be honest why in the world would I spend my time, my precious time on the planet working with a guy that sucks? That I know and he knows he is going nowhere? When I first started out in this business I worked anyone and everyone. I was a real communist and had these ideals that in every person and soul there is an equal song to be sung. That lasted for about six months and then I couldn’t boot those guys asses out fast enough. I became a real pro at spotting the losers right off the bat. You know what it came down to? Confidence. I could tell just the way they would enter into my studio, the way they carried themselves, if they are going to be a drag or not. It was in the shoulders. If they shoulder slagged and the shuffle of the feet dragged on the floor I knew they were going to be a bore. I wanna make money man! I want to add to the world of happiness! I want upbeat hits that makes cash for all! Not some depressed moping dripping goon whose songs make one want to go jump a bridge. Give me the jazz man! Give me th grooves! Give me the spice and the sauce that makes me want to toss to and fro. Not vomit but toss as in dance.
Alfalfa Sprout was an exception. His music was not upbeat nor down beat. But it was good man. The losers that came in, dripping with depression and too noble for the rest of us in their despair, I would quickly spot them and then proceed to corral them away from the sound equipment and swiftly over the the sofa and coffee make in the lounge near the exit. I had a routine. I would sit them down with absolutely no intention whatsoever in working with them but would proceed to ask them questions about their musical background pretending to care. One kid came in, he must have been living with his mother for the last three years unemployed and masturbating every day. My god he was something. To this day I still remember that long greasy shaggy hair he had. I have no problem with long hair mind you, I love long hair. Like in Led Zeppelin and Van Halen. Or White Snake. But they had it feathered and fine and breezy. They looked cool and ready for the day. This kid in particular that I am thinking about. The long greasy hair and the zombie stare into space. He was a quick corraller over to the sofa and coffee maker. A couple questions were asked and then I gave him the eye towards the door and said, “Ill get back to you soon. Wonderful hearing your story. Love it! Love it!”
I never called him. He called back a couple of times but I never returned his calls.
As I mentioned earlier. I worked with the great Steve Miller. Oh was he a golden egg. I worked with him on his fly like an eagle project. I helped him make all of the hits. Fly like an eagle, keep on a rocking me babe, take the money and run. I was the one responsible for his sound. But I have to confess, it was really him though behind the hits. Pure golden boy. As cool as his songs. Came in one time to the studio. I looked out the window and saw him pull up in the Ford Mustang all pumped up in the back. I’ll never forget. The music that was playing his radio was Barracuda, by heart. I just thought that was so cool that he was into other peoples music like that to turn up the volume so high. He
had these blazing blue eyes that would almost take you by surprise and he had dark hair too. It’s a great combo in a guy. Elvis had that look too… the hypnotic blue eyes with the dark hair! OOOO weeee. I tell you if I were gay I would go after a guy like Mr. Steve Miller. He came in and I had heard of him before. He was making a bit of a name for himself around the LA area. I was the biggest recording and record company in town. And also I might add had the biggest name as a producer. What can I say? I’m great. When he came in believe me I did not corral him over to the sofa and coffee. I immediately took him back to the check room and sound board equipment room so that he could see all of the toys I had. I had a grand piano that cost me 25,000. In todays terms that is not a whole lot, but back in those days, in the 70’s, that was something else. I had a stratocaster that the one and only BB king played in the 1960’s. I had a drum set that cost somewhere in the lines of 30,000 big samolas. When I was alone in the studio I used to cream back on that set. I was just bang and jam on those drums getting all of my stress out. The would snort a few lines. In the 70’s man, coke was where it was at. After snorting I would go back to the drum and start pumping out certain rhythms. Now let me tell you I never took any lessons before but you give me couple lines and few hours of play on that set and I was flying! I could have played with any band in the states or the world for that matter. I was doing triplets with my left and doing quadruplets on my right while keeping perfect 4/4 time on the hight hat. I learned to do triplets on the bass drum with my big toe. Sometimes I would go back there, take a few lines and sit at that set naked as a flying seagull and hammer away at those beats.
Steve and I hit it off real well right away. We did a couple of lines together and then I miked him up to the soundboard and I went back into the room while I had him give me his best shit. I smoked a lot then, I always had them in my breast pocket of my dress shirt. It was always hot as hell in the studio and I would have the AC blasting on high but it still didn’t do any good. I lit up, did I final check on the levels, and gave Steve the thumbs up.
His first song off the bat was rockin me. All he had was an acoustic guitar and his voice. He slowly started the song off with almost a rock a billy feel and then that absolutely glorious voice kicked in. “Well I’ve been lookin real hard and I’m trying to find a job….” After that first line I said outloud in the soundboard room knowing he couldn’t hear, “you got a job here my man! Your fucking hired! “ He fucking sounded sweet as tits. There was something about his music, so simple so lyrical so catchy and unassuming. Fucking loved the guy. He knew I was having a sonic orgasm as he peered in through the glass at me while I had this sloppy fuck me grin on my face. He was so cool, he never showed much emotion, he always had his shit under control, he just slightly smirked and a slight dimple appeared on his cheek. Fuck me was he talented! Those lines about Northern California and Phoenix Arizona Atlanta and then he brought my home town into it with LA! Oh man. I knew he was the golden egg, and I was going to help him lay these babies big and golden and round and beautiful as can be. He finished the song.
“Dude! Dude! Give me a hug!” I went over and slobbered all over him. He stood back a bit but then went in for the embrace thinking that it was probably in his best business interests to invest in a hug with me. “ Dude I was just absolutely blown away! And its not because I earlier smoked the biggest bowl I have ever smoked nor is it that I am flying off of my cradle high on coke. But that helped!” I giggled like a silver bullet machine setting out rapid fire. I couldn’t control myself, once the laughing kicked in it was like I was landing an airplane and the thumps and bumps and the rubber on burning pavement kept repeating faster and faster and I was hoping for gods sakes I would finally land so I could talk to the guy about how great I thought his music was. As I was starting to keel over a bit in my grinding guffaws I peered up at him for a second and I could tell he thought I had a couple screws loose of a full deck. His eyebrow raised just a twitch, enough to indicate. I tried desperately to collect myself in front of him. I felt like ever part of me was sprawling and some drool began to dangle off of the end of my lip. And finally I did pull it together. “ No but seriously man, I thought your music was the tits!
When do you want to record?!” Usually I was the one in control of these scenarios, but Steve was so fucking cool that I was putty in his hands. I was nearly begging him to answer. “ When are we recording? Your hired my man!” And I gave him a big firm hands shake to make sure that he knew that I wasn’t a tooty fruit or anything. “ How bout next week?” He replied pleased to see me regain myself. “ Totally dude! Now do you have band mates? Or should we hire them?” I asked. “ I have a bunch of guys I have been playing with lately that I think will do the job.” He said.
I worked with Peter Frampton. He was cool too. Not quite on the level of Steve, but he was good. I was the one who introduced that voice box to him. Man were the women hot for him. They should see him now, now he looks like uncle fester. But back in the day man he was hot for the ladies. You had to handle Peter a little differently than the others. Peter was talented, there is not doubt about that, but he was moody. Do I dare say almost a cry baby? When working with him in the summer of 74’, we were right here in this studio that I am sitting in right now. We were doing the run on “baby I love your way”. I’ll never forget it. I told him I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to keep the last take because his voice had gone over the meter in volume and I immediately, thinking it a bad take, deleted, or in those days erased it. I saw him getting slightly teary eyed and I thought maybe it was the AC because I knew that some people are allergic to it. “ I wanted that take Steve” he said looking up into my eyes and I could see that he was glistening in the ball sockets and I was pretty sure it had nothing to do at this point with the AC. Just then the phone rang in the back office and I went to go answer it. It was Peter’s girlfriend at the time. I told him that it was her on the line and he said,” oh! Ok I will be right back.” When he was in the back office I could hear him say, “ But I wanted the dining room set placed on the other side of the room. Not under the window! Oh! The whole wide world is against me it seems. Tell the movers that I won’t pay them a cent, until that table is put where I want it.” When he was saying this I was thinking top myself I could give a fuck where my tables and furniture are in my home. I just want to go home and crash in bed and smoke my bong. If I crash on the floor or on the dining room table it didn’t matter. But he seemed so concerned. To be honest he sounded paranoid. And believe e in todays completive world I can understand the competitive capitalism that can really get you all bound up in dollars and signs the numbers and shit, but to get all bent out of shape over a dining room table? And it sounded by the conversation that is was only off by a few feet. I thought, “Man just one it yourself, its not that big of a deal. I mean get creative. Like I’m sure that the guys have better things to do , the truck driver mover guys, I am sure they have better things to do thatn to turn around on hi way 101 and go back to this dweebs mansion to move his table a couple feet. Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy. Pete. He made me millions and I love the guy like a brother. But fucking ay.
he came back from the back room and I couldn’t believe it… there were fucking tears trailing all down his face. He was crying like a fucking woman! Now you have to remember in those days it was ok to say those things about women, that they cried a lot and all… they were different times then and I am telling you this story from the narrator of those days. Don’t get me started and ll on this feminist PC shit, that is another whole matter. I mean I understand women got the shaft for years but if I want to call Peter Frampton a pussy I want to call him a pussy. He started going on about this song and dance about how he was being persecuted by the world. My god celebrity and fame had really made him a narcissistic asshole. The guys fucking ego was bigger that Jupiter. The temp in the studio had to be just right for the guy. I told him the fucking AC didn’t go any higher, I already had it on full blast. Then there was even one point where he started complaining that it was too cold and that I was purposely trying to get him to catch a cold or some sawed off bullshit. Why the fuck would I want Peter Frampton to catch a cold? I wanna make a million off the fucker. None of this made any sense. Then his girlfriend arrived. Holy shit was she a piece of work. She came in in these high heels and she obviously was all lubed up on some kind of speed or something. Her eyes were all glazed over and she said, “
Where’s my Petey? I want my Petey!” I told her we were just about to cut a track and that she could wait out in hall until we were done. But that wouldn’t do. She came barging in on the studio and Peter had his pants down over near the drum set. She said,” Oh my god were you giving him a blow job?!” Now I didnt know why the hell Pete was doing over near the bass drum and set with his pants down to knees and his hairy ass and legs shining for both myself and his girl… let me think… I think her name was Sheila if I am not mistaken, yea Sheila, Sheila Newcome. Why was his ass there for both of us to see? “Peter what the fuck are you doing? Tell your woman I wasn’t giving you a blow job ok man? My fucking career and reputation are on the fucking line.” “ Some fucking bug is crawling up my crotch and I can’t fucking get at the thing.” Pete said as he frantically brushed his groin area as if he were a dog flicking off flees. Of course Pete had that cool British accent. The is about the only thing that was saving his ass at this point in time. The guy was getting on my nerves. “ Well are you sure you don’t have cooties?” I wondered.
“ No .. what do you mean? Like crabs or something? Fuck you man I don’t mess around like that!” Peter continued brushing what seemed to me like he was hallucinating or something. He was hysterically slapping at his thighs and crotch and it almost like he was playing the drums. I said, “ Look man if you want to play the drums they are just to your left. But if you got cooties or something don’t brush them all over my freshly vacuumed floor you mother fucker. “ I could see that he didnt like that I called him a Mo FO. He turned around to me and I could see his fucking pecker. It was fucking huge. The guy had like an eight inch dick just normal at rest. I yelled, “ Getting that fucking dick out of my sight of view man. Wy dont you pull up your pants and go back into that bathroom and take care of business back there. Just try and not get any fucking cooties on the toilet seat!”
“ I don’t have any cooties you asshole. You have some kind of fucking airborne beetle in here.”
“ no I don’t, your the only air born beetle I have around here. I think your tripped out man on your speed. How much fucking speed have you been taking with your woman? “ I said.
“ maybe your right…” he calmed down for a second. “ I have been taking a lot of speed lately.
“ yea dude… like I thinking your hallucinating man because I don’t see any fucking bugs around here. He turned around at me again and his big long schlong dong was dangling like a huge grand father clock.
“ Look man I already have a grandfather clock and pendulum in the back room, I dont need another… tell your lady I wasn’t giving you blow job and then lets call it a day ok man? Im a little bit tired from all of this shit.
“ Oh man I really wanted to cut this track. This is one of my better songs. “Baby I love your ways.”
He pulled up his pants and he and Sheila went back to the back bathroom to pull themselves together. When they came out I said, “ Alright sure man, let’s finish the track. I got out a cigarette and went back into the soundboard room. Checked all of the levels and made sure that Peter was still on board. “ are we good to go man?”
“ definitely bloke,”
The guy had totally flaked out on me but I was willing to forgive him mainly because the asshole was going to make me millions. I had a great house up on Mulholland drive and I meant to keep it and it was boners like Frampton that were going to keep me living high up in the hills if you know what I mean.
“ Alright Take 1!”
“ Shadows grow so long before my eyes…. and they’re moving across the page… suddenly the day turns into night….” Shit I was willing to forgive him for everything. A man who can write a couple lines like that deserves to be given a break. He continued, “ Far away from the city but don’t hesitate cause your love wont wait hey…. Oo baby I love your way… “ The song and lyrics gave me shivers and it felt good all of a sudden to be in the business again.
Other than that, “its been a long strange trip” as my boys from up in San Fran would say. Ive worked with the best of em. Taken a shit load of drugs. People often ask me if I play any music myself besides the drums when I am nude and on coke. Oh shit that reminds me… oh no… that was 40 some years ago… if Frampton did have cooties they are all gone by now I am sure. Beside playing nude on the set… have I ever made a song or do I play any instruments seriously? “I played the accordion.” I answer. Used to love to play the old accordion. To feel that bag contract and blow next to me. I know it sounds gay. I even played the bag pipes for a while but the kids in my school made fun of me. They said it looked like I was blowing a huge cock and ball sack. I didnt have a lot of talent to be honest. People are my instruments. I like to play people. Not in any terrible malicious way. Just I enjoy reading people and seeing the ones that I need to direct to the sofa and coffee and the others that are keepers. I’m getting older now and looking back on my career it seems more and more to have all been a dream. The people I have met… the reltionships that have come and gone.. the people have known who hav died from overdoses or just aging too fast from the crazy life we have lived out here. I generally like people. I like even the ones I corral towards the exit. Sometimes for me the greatest song I ever heard was the silent one between two people bonding over something, giving each other a hand shake and a smile. A simple “how do you do?” As I get older that song “ the fundamental things apply as time goes by” are holds a ring of truth.
I still live up in the hills in the same old rambler I had in the 70’s. As the younger riseth I do feel the pressure a bit, like I myself am being corralled towards the sofa and exit. But what can one do? I never did marry. Had a lot of sex in the 70’s up n the hills. Sometimes right on the hills and between them out in the open. Oh the 70’s were fun. Kids thee day that just don’t know what fun quite really is.
Im 75 now and will retire in the next couple of years. Im working with a kid by the name of Cauliflower Matrix. He has an interesting sound. Its a mix of rap and funk with a touch of Motown. Never hear a sound quite like the before. Still have the old grand piano that I had back then. But I had to move it back into the storage room. We made room for some electrical updated equipment. Man the equipment these days. Shit.. the things we could have don’t back in the day if we had the equipment that these kids have today. Cauliflower matrix is going on tour in two months and he wants to put out a holiday special for his fans. Its not like the old days where he who owned the radio waves ruled the land. Now with the internet and all you can create your own little enclave of fans. And the whole rest of the world would know nothing of it… and that would be just fine. The guy who is writing and creating me has made a hard and fast rule that he must get as close as he can to 4,000 words for his story so at this point I am just babbling on to fill the pages so the my creator will feel good about himself. He has ten more lines that he needs to fill so I will blab on about something. What should I talk about? Who is talking right now? Me or the creator? Oh aren’t I so clever. I think they have merged at this point.
If you are ever out in the valley give me a ring. I would love to work with you and hear your songs. But I warn you, if you come in all depressed with songs that sound like that one Nick Drake guy and you sound all fake in your dramatic show of darkness and your hair is all shaggy and greasy and you look like you still live with your mom and … well…. I just wont have time for you. You can stop in, I will pull you over to the sofa and I will give you a cup of coffee and I will ask you about your journey and how you came to be interested in music and then I will gently escort you over to the exit and tell you “ I love it! Loved to hear your story! We’ll talk later! hang in there pal!” And then I will never talk to you again.
A Tennis Racquet
My name’s Robert Pratt. I am a professional tennis player. I have been playing the circuit for a good ten years now. I’m 33 years old, the same age that Christ died. Christ is my savior, and when I win matches I can only really credit him with the grace that he had bestowed upon me; having delivered me a victory. I was born in Akron Ohio. I started tennis rather late relative to other competitive players; I started when I was ten years old. The highest ranking that I ever had was 103 in the world. You may say that doesnt sound very high, but believe me these guys at that level are mblievable talented players. That was four years ago. My ranking right now is 329. What you don’t understand is how easy it is to drop. I mean all it takes is one bad loss to some guy who is ranked 500 or something and you ranking plummets. And guys at the 5-600 are still really good players, and you may have a bad day and let’s say your ankle is a bit sore and you look across the net and believe me that guy wants to take you down. He has nothing to lose and everything to gain at 550. When he sees your name on the draw and sees your rank, he sees possibility of some serious advancement in the polls.
The most money that I made in one season was the one believe it or not previous to the one I was ranked 103. I had played so many tournaments that year to get my ranking up and I won a couple of what they call “challenger” tournaments. I made $150,000 that year. It wasn’t until the next year that I saw the benefits of all of that years previous play that I finally went up in the rankings. Being on the tour is a tough life. You travel all around the United States or wherever the country the matches happen to be, in my case they were mostly in the USA. Although idid play some “futures” down in Mexico and Argentina. ( Futures are tournaments leveled just under challengers) It’a a tough life… you sit in a lot of hotel rooms watching tv stretching out and waiting for your next match. Its hard on your romantic life, you have hardly any time to settle down and find someone because your such a rolling stone tumbling form one town and state to the next. What woman has time or the money to traipse around with some jock and his shorts month after month?
I grew up rather poor. My father worked for the local quarry cutting out marble stone to be shipped over seas. My mother worked a part time job at the local city sports club. I grew up playing on those courts. Anandale Lilly valley Inner City Sports. I have no idea why the called it Annandale and Lilly valley. I used to ask people around the club why it was named that, and no one else knew either. My mother got discounts on court time, and they had these really crappy courts but I loved them. They had a chain linked fence for the net, and they didn’t have any wind screens. They were god awful courts. In the spring time the heavy wind would blow in and the ball that you meant to hit down the line would curve way out cross court. It was more like a circus show than anything else. And when we played street kids would walk behind the fence and throw rocks at us for fun. To be honest it fucking sucked at the time, but looking back ironically they were some of my fondest memories. The great Arthur Aspen came to our courts often. Bud O’connel was our tennis director and he had a fairly close friendship with Arthur. We were tough kids, scrappy and feisty and we loved to play the country club kids. They were such brats. We almost beat Westwind Central. They were such cake eaters and such soft whimps. They had no fight or grit but their parents had all of the money in the world and so they could afford lessons with the best pros in town; and in the winter time they had easy access to indoor courts. They could train all year round all because mommy and daddy had so much money. We were tough, out greatest hero was the great Jimmy Stenders. He grew up in the streets of Chicago and his father was a boxer. That guy knew how to fight and win. These pasty plastic cake eaters from Westwind had such pretty strokes and their clothes were so clean and nice, and then when we came out our strokes were ugly as all get out and our clothes were often cut off jeans or I even knew one guy that wore his hockey breezers at a match. We were junk yard dogs bread and fed in the windy cages of inner city sports. Hardened by the concrete courts we played on. We played with crappy metal racket that looked more like rabbit traps. Ill never forget the time I played the number one player from Westwind. He came out off of the bus all pasty white and clean and his hair didn’t have a single strand out of place. His hair was as hard as a rock with all of the hairspray he put in it. His girlfriend came to watch the match and she was just as phony as he was. He wore his letter jacket and thought he was so cool. His girlfriend looked at him all awe struck like he was some kind of hero. I wonder where that loser is now. Probably running his father’s apartment complexes. Daddy’s little helper.
I started off down against Harvey Applegate. Applegate thought he had the match all wrapped up after the first set. He beat me a sound 6-1. In tennis terminology that is called a bread stick. Had he beat me 6-0, that would have been called a bagel. I asked once where all this food stuff came from from one of my coached in the program at Inner sports. She said it came from back in the days in England in France, all the la di da people that played the upper class game would eat bagels and bread sticks. The word, “love” comes from the french word for egg. Like “L’oeuf” or something. I guess all the wealthy dandys back in the day would eat eggs and bagels and breadsticks. Its hard to believe that all of these years later those terms have stuck. I got a real beating the first set. But what really triggered a fire in my belly was when during the change over in between sets; he started talking to his girlfriend and they were talking about what they were planning to do later after the match, and the guy was talking regular, like making no attempt to lower is voice or anything, and he said with real strong vocal chords, “ this shouldn’t take long.” He obviously was referring to our match. That lit a flame in my belly. “Wouldn’t take long” Hugh? I told myself that this next set I was going to get every ball I could back into the court. He may beat me 6-1 again but he is going to have to work his ass off doing it. Every single ball I was going to run it down and he was going to have to beat me to win, I was not going to beat myself. There is nothing I like better than seeing some spoiled cake eater whining across the net from me because the match was taking longer than he had anticipated. There was a certain sadistic relish I got out of seeing him throw his racket when we were tied at 4-4. The second set had already taken twice as long as the first had and we hadn’t even finished yet. I was getting even ball back and he was coming apart at the tennis ball seams. Then he started crying out “ this guy is such a fucking push!” Being called a “push’” in tennis was a real put down. It meant that you were kind of a pussy that didn’t play to win but played not to lose. And you waited for the other guy to make a mistake. Basically you held up a platter of roast turkey and cranberry sauce and stuffing with a big cutting knife next to it and said” Kill me! Eat me! Put me away if you dare!” A lot of guys choked against pushes. Pushes did just that. They “pushed” the ball, they didn’t hit it. And “pushes” loved to watch their opponents get frustrated and try to over hit the ball to show the world how tough they were and how they really knew how to kill a ball. And then sooner or later they would make a mistake. They would throw their racket call their opponents names and proceed to strangle themselves with the rope that the pushers had given them. They would slit their own throats with the cutting knife on the platter. “Pushers” I think could be compared to Ju Jitsu fighter from Brazil. Like a python they wrap around their opponents bringing them down to their levels, slow the pace down until the opponent is hypnotized into a trance, and then the “pusher” finally suffocated them to death. And this is exactly what I was doing to old Harvey Applegate. I won the second set 7-5, and from then on I knew I had the match. I didn’t care that I won by pushing. What would you rather do after the match? Say you hit the shit out of the ball but lost? Like a moron? Or that you pushed through and won? All I cared about was winning. But I never cheated. I never ever cheated. That was one thing you learned at Aandale Lilly Valley Inner City Sports. You didn’t cheat!
I loved it after the match Harvey’s girlfriend came over kind of sheepishly and she looked over at me and Harvey had his head buried in his towel and sweat and what looked like almost tears were running down his red face. She smiled at me, as if to say, “ look what you did to him”. I beat the jerk 6-2. God it felt good to be him. Christ was on my side that time. That’s for sure.
I went to college at Ball state in Indiana. The highest spot I played in the line up was 6th singles. We had a tremendous team the years that I was there. I was just freekin hard to move up the ladder. We had so many good players. We won the big ten 4 years in a row. All of the years I played for them. I was kind of a late bloomer. I didn’t really start to get some hair on my chest till I was a Junior. Other guys were full grown men right off the get go in Freshman year. Ted Helgeson looked like a gorilla. He was so stocky and hairy and he seems to swing around the court like there were swinging vines all over the place. The guy was fast as hell too. Super athlete. Your perfect mesomorph. All muscle. They guy never had to work out, he was naturally built like a fire hydrant. Tough as all shit too. One time we were all out at a bar on a weekend and some football players came up to us and started calling us a bunch of pussies and pansies because we played tennis. I don’t think those guys knew who they were messing with. Ted was really clever, he would talk to them knowing that they were all drunk and are looking for a fight. So Ted pretended to be all non chalant like he was just talking to them all cool and rational and then out of nowhere he sucker punched the biggest guy just as the guy called Ted a fag. The guy went down cold. Totally out cold. On the floor… toast… KO’d. The two other guys jumped on Ted but the owner of the bar stepped in and pulled them off of him and broke up the fight.
After Ball State most of the guys hung up their rackets and went into getting real jobs working in the corporate world, or opening up their own restaurants. No one seriously played with the idea of going professional in tennis. We were good players, but we were fodder for the feast on the circuit. You would especially think a guy who only played 6 singles for the team wouldn’t dare of going on tour. But thats’ exactly what I did. All the guys laughed at me and put me down for deciding to spend “at least a year” playing futures and challengers in the United States. But if it is one thing That Inner City Sports taught me, was how to be an under dog and prove all of the bullies wrong. My first tournament was in Houston, Texas. I had played a couple of National tournaments on clay down there in my junior years and I knew how darn humid it was down there. The prize money was held at $20,000. That meant that they split it up. So quarter finalists received something like $1,000, semi-finalists received $2,000 each, the finalist would make about $4,000, and then the winner would make $8,000. It’s not a lot of money. To win a tournament like this takes enormous energy, skill, training and some good old luck, like your opponent gets injured, or you get a lucky draw and have a couple easy rounds at the beginning. Getting to the quarter finals will just barley pay your expenses getting down there. Luckily Inner City Sports collected a donation for me and so that has helped me out a bit. I simply couldn’t do it without Christ and them. My first round match was scheduled for 8am on a Friday against Manuel Zuniga, from Mexico. It always seemed like these guys from Latin America pounded the shit out of the ball and had all this flashy spin and shit on the balls that they hit. They were fucking intimidating most of them. They were emotional, fiery, and dangerous players. They weren’t afraid to go right at you if you were at the net or something. Zuniga had this big broad chin that stuck out as if to say, “ I dare you” . I have always had a small chin. So small it is almost embarrassing. I received it from my grandfather. It must have jumped a generation. Because my mother and father both had nice shapely chins. But mine is tapered and receding. One time I grew a beard and wore it for a whole year to make my chin look bigger. When I shaved it people thought I had had surgery or something on my chin from mouth cancer or something because they were so shocked at how small my chin was. I replied, “ No this is what God gave me, a small chin.” A I would point to it.
This Zuniga guy was a real hombre, a real machismo like I had come to know so many of the Latin American guys. I don’t know if it is the water down there or what. But they have all this energy and fire and anger and heat. Maybe it is from all those red peppers or something. I have a more mellow demeanor. I am more calculating and cautious in my tennis play. And they say that players play just like their personalities and I believe that to be true. I had a good friend b the name of Roger Burlington and he played tennis just like a drove a car through traffic. A wild man! No patience for any of the other idiots on the road, cutting people off, serving and volleying to get the point over as fast he could. Going for winners right off the bat. Hitting the ball 120 mph. He would either lose 6-0,6-0, or he would win 6-0,6-0. There was no in-between. He had no time for long grueling rallies that consumed your body and soul. His goal was to get it over as fast as possible one way or the other. It is no surprise that he didn’t go real far in tennis. A professional player needs to have several things in place to make it. Not that I would know myself, but just by looking at the guys at the very top. The top ten in the world. 1. You have to be a somewhat good athlete. Its just too hard to make on Brians alone. 2. You need to be around 6’1” or taller. There are a couple of shorter guys but they are really rare. 3. You need to live and die and think of nothing other thatn tennis every day all day for at least a decade straight. You can read a book on the plane or have little hobbies that keep you sane, but you cannot have any serious interests in anything other thatn tennis. That is why it is my belief that a lot of the best players in the world must be rather dumb and shallow creatures. I mean they can’t have but only the shallowest of surface knowledge of anything but a tennis ball, sort, shorts and sweats. 4. Having a lot of money. I made it bout as far as a guy can go who came from a poor background. Almost all of the great layers came from a wealthy background. They are all Harvey Applegates in some form or other. 5. You have to be tennis smart. A smartness that actually could be a kind of stupidity seen from another angle. You can be dumb as rocks in everything else. But you need a certain amount of patience (or stupidity I suppose you can call it), to grind and persevere. 6. You need to be competitive. You need to hate to lose. Absolutely despise losing. If you don’t care that much one way or another, tennis (and probably sports), is not for you.
Zuniga toyed with me. “Toying” means playing like a lion plays with the lamb just before he is about to eat it. Or a cat playing with the half killed mouse that is still trying to escape the cats claws and clutches. He won the first set 6-2. After that the guy knew he had me and he started serving underhand shift shots and a serve were you toss it up swing and miss it on purpose and then you hit it when its down near the ground. The guy started hot dogging. He had no respect for me as a player. It was humiliating. When the score was 4-0 in the second set, he returned my serve behind his back when there was no need to, he did it just to grand stand. I hit a lob over his head and followed it in to the net and he hit a ball between his legs for a passing shot winner. That match was one of the more humiliating matches I had ever experienced. It lit a fire in my belly like it did against Applegate, but for some reason I couldn’t get anything going. The guy made me look like a beginner. It was on clay too, and those Latin Americans are master of the clay. They know how to slide into a shot. They know how to spin you to death and they know how to fuck up, excuse me Christ, they know how to fuck up your timing and rhythm.
My next tournament was in Phoenix. I dont want to bore you with the petty details of my storied history of tennis. One thing that was kind of fascinating in Phoenix is that we arrived just as there was this enormous forest fires devouring the hillsides. You normally don’t associate Phoenix with the fires, they are usually out in LA. I couldn’t believe it. I saw one guy run onto the highway right in front of me. The fucking guy was on fire. I kid you not. He seemed to be waving me down like he was a hitchhiker or something, and I wanted to say , “man I think you have more serious problems than hitching a ride, like your whole head is engulfed in flames. I rolled down my window and he said, “ water …. water…. I need water….. “ I replied, “ I dont have any man.” This is back in the days before they had cell phones. I couldn’t call an ambulance so I stopped the car, put it in park and darted around the car with my back seat blanket in hand. I tossed it over his head to suffocate the flames. Once I saw that I wasn’t going to get hurt or burnt, I took the blanket off of his head and he was charred and smoking. I know it sounds funny, and I don’t mean it to be. Its tragic as hell and no laughing matter. The guy will have scars for the rest of his life. People will look at him everywhere he goes like he is
some kind of freak. It’s awful. He’ll probably never get laid again. Or maybe some angel will see through the tragedy and give him her heart.
Christ has always been with me in all of my matches. If I win a match, I cross my heart with my hand. Only if I win. If I lose I just assume that Christ had more busy things to do that day and couldn’t be bothered with my match on court 15 in Atlanta Georgia on a Sunday afternoon last year in Mid October. That match was a real killer, sure wish the lord would have been there for me on that one. I figure I got a couple years left. Age 35 will be a good time to retire. Oh yea, I almost forgot to mention… the very peak of my career. The year that I made 103 in the rankings. I had an opportunity to play the number one player in the world. I qualified to play for Wimbledon. First round, I had to play Raga Fidelio. The number one player in the world that year, who is from Italy.
You can only imagine how pumped I was at getting a chance to play the number one player in the world. I stretched out for a solid hour before the match, jumped rope for 5 minutes to get the blood flow moving through the body. I called some of my buddies back in Akron to tell them that I made Wimbledon and that I was playing the one and only Raga Fidelio. Told them to turn their tv on to the cable Chanels and maybe they would be able to watch it. They were so proud of me. Roger Burlington told me to try and hit Raga in the nuts if I had a chance. He is so funny. I was nervous as hell. I mean I was going t be on tv and all of those people looking at me. The thought crossed my mind, “What if I double fault whole games away? The crowd will obviously see that I am choking, and then I hope to Christ above I don’t have another one of my panic attacks. I prayed to the lord for a half hour before the match. With the change in time zone I was just a little bit jet lagged but not bad.
I first went into the locker rooms underneath the stadium. You could hear the roar of the lions. I felt almost like I was in the Roman Coliseum. Only we were going to shred each other apart with things that looked like spaghetti strainers. No direct contact sport, gentlemen style. Tennis gets a bad rap. Tennis player are called pussies but I tell you it is one of the toughest sports in the world. The athleticism, the concentration, the mental toughness that you need.
I saw Raga on the other side of the locker room. He was taking a cold shower. He came out and he had this enormous elephants trunk for a whacker. I was immediately intimidated. I tried not to look. I didn’t want him to think I was gay or anything but he saw me glance at his package. I nodded to him and he nodded back. He knew I was his opponent.
I put my big bag of rackets on a bench and tied my laces that had come untied. I was nervous as shit. I had some new shoes on that I had been sponsored. Reebok had sponsored me and given me free shoes. I felt great, my body was in good shape and I felt fresh and ready. Nervous as all get out like I said, but. I tried to keep bouncing after I tied my laces. You don’t want to get the deer in headlights look.. when a person gets nervous they have a tendency to resemble a corpse who has been stunned with a stun gun… to prevent this from happening you keep the feet moving and you keep taking big long slow breaths to keep the flow moving through … to keep your system oxygenated.
“ Time Gentlemen!” A referee called over to us. We both walked over to him and my heart was racing a this point. I fell the roar of the crowd above… you could almost feel the pressure of the stands and the weight of all the people over you and the anticipation and the anxiety and yet it was exhilarating at the same time. And If one could harness that energy you could use it to your advantage. It was a super fine line to walk.. The anxiety could be a killer, but if you new how to use it it could spur you on to what they call…”treeing”. “Treeing” means that you are in The Zone. Your eyes are wide and awake, and your alert and ready but not thinking about anything at all. A state of extreme tension and yet a kind of relaxed tension. The great Jimmy Stenders said that he played his best tennis when he wasn’t thinking about a thing. Not an iota. A total and complete air head. A kind of headless horsemen on fire. And that is exactly how I played. I played so out of my mind in the zone that I smoked Raga so bad he resembled that guy I saw on the highway in Phoenix. He looked stunned and darted with a drug. I was Ted Helgeson on steroids. I couldn’t miss the ball. Christ had heard my prayer that day. I made Raga look like a beginner. I hit drop shots from the baseline for winners. I hit 32 aces. I hit backhand returns harder back to him than he delivered them to me with his serve. I was on fire! I even hit a couple of returns from behind my back alla Manual Zuniga. The ball was a big fluffy yellow volleyball that I could not help but plaster all over the court. I beat him in straight sets; 6-0,6-4,-6-3.
My name is Scarlet Rogers. I never married. I live in San Francisco. My cotton dress is sort of a mix between Fuchsia and Lavender. I am wearing a head dress. It is maroon. I am standing in half natural light. It crosses my body. I have my hands clasped together, my right palm linked on top of my left. My skin is very white, especially where the light is hitting my hands. I am over weight by about 30 lbs. I am wearing black rimmed glasses that have a 60’s style to them. Someone who lived when Kennedy was assassinated might have worn these sort of winged frames. My face is in a curious frame itself. I think one would call it a skeptical look. Slightly embarrassed. Perhaps I feel slightly put upon by this man who is taking a photo of me. I think the word plump would describe me well. I would like mainly to be left alone. I know that I am rather plain, and I am alright with that. But I do not want to be pitied. My hair is dark brown. I pencil in my eyebrows. I am of Irish stock. But I have always disliked being categorized in that way. I am an extremely loving person. I have only a few friends but the ones I have I am loyal to the end. I am waiting for my medicine at the pharmacy. I have stage 2 diabetes. It has been snowing a bit lately in town which is very rare, but I have relatives from Montana and they supplied me with winter clothes. I have some warm leather brown boots that keep my feet cozy. A nylon downy jacket is in my shopping cart. My face has a look that certainly is as intriguing as the Mona Lisa. Only one man has seen it, while millions upon millions every year have seen Lisa del Giocondo’s. I don’t mean to be manipulating your sympathies, but don’t you think that I deserve to be famous like Lisa? My eyebrow is slightly raised which give my expression the appearance of reticence. I am holding in reserve my trust of the world. I have doubts about others intentions. Their motives. Forgive me if I say words that have the same meanings, if I sound redundant, I like to explore a word, the sound, to see if it fits. My cheeks are pink. My skin is as soft as a cloud or pillow.
I wonder why this man is taking a photo of me. Is he mocking me? Is he sending the photo to his friends so they can all laugh at how nerdy and homely I am? Or maybe this man is another one of these nut jobs that talks out loud- real loud to himself in the streets. I look a little bit like Aunt Jemima on the that syrup bottle. Or the black maid servant in Gone With the Wind. Only I am white of course. This dress is very comfortable. It gives me a lot of space to breathe. I feel wonderful in it. It is so loose and airy. I want to feel relaxed during my day. There is nothing I dislike more than the feel of tight clothes around your arms and legs. You feel like your slowly hanging to death by your own wardrobe. Don’t laugh or make fun of me, but I feel like I look a bit like the Pillsbury dough boy only in purple.
I often ask myself why I am on the planet. Why I was born. Why the world is so evil. Bt I try not to waste too much time on such matters. I don’t want to infect the world all the more with my doom and gloom. My favorite tv show is Friends. My second favorite show is Seinfeld. I love to go home in the evening from my job and turn on some old re-runs from one of those programs. Another show I just love but they don’t have on anymore very much is the Mary Tyler Moore show. Oh yea! And cheers. I like stories about just regular folks getting along in the world with one another. No big drama. I don’t like drama. I have a siamese cat by the name of Licorice. This guy is so weird… why is he taking that photo? Is he some kind of pervert or something? What does he want from me?
My best friend is Sally. Sally Pridmore. Every Friday night we have a girls night out. We go to the local bar and have a couple of daiquiries. I love to get a little buzz and talk with her about tv shows and our favorite episodes. I work at a grocery store called Andronico’s. It is a long and laborious job. I work the cash register 35 hours a week. i like it when it is busy at the store, then time goes fast. If it is fairly empty, the time goes so slow. However I do enjoy chatting with my fellow cash registers. Ha… I make it sound like they are the cash register. You know what I mean. People who work the registers. Although I have to say that after a while one does feel like one has actually become the register. The hands glide over the keys as if in compete second nature. I know the bings and dings of every button and the sound of the door opening. Working a register has its own rhythms. I am so good at it now that I don’t even have to look anymore at the keys. I have become a machine. But I always hate it when people complain about the modern world enslaving us into its capitalistic machinery. I mean, yea it sucks, but it is a hell of a lot better than just about all the other alternatives out there. Have you ever read what living in the old Soviet Union was like? Give me a break. The way I see it, capitalism raises ones standard of living but give you no time to enjoy it. While socialism lowers the standard of living but you have more time to enjoy your misery. Is that a true statement? I heard they worked many hours in the communist countries. But you wonder if they really worked? Their was no incentive to was there? Any way when all is said and done, I do vote socialist. I Look like a simple person, but actually I am very complex and contradictory at times. I am part of a union in Andronico’s. It is a part co-op. I understand the evils of capitalism and how everyone is turned into a commodity. Like your worth as a person is almost solely based on how much money you make. And I understand how I am todays modern slave. What can a person like myself do? I have no real talent at anything. I did horrible in school. I am an average person through in through. I have to make money somehow to survive. Id rather be a slave with a clear conscience than a master with a guilty one. On the other hand I am not foolish enough to think that pure socialism is the answer either. I am kind of a moderate I guess. These day yes, without a doubt capitalism has gone too far one sided. The disparity between the rich and poor, the owners and the workers is obviously unhealthy. I just think that the strident antithesis , this blind idealism in a socialist state is short sited and naive. To be honest. I stay out of politics as much as I can. As long as I can curl up in the evenings with my cat Licorice and watch old reruns of my favorite sit coms I am a happy woman. Sex? I never have it and that is ok with me.
kids made fun of me when I was a kid in school. “Little Miss Hen, got stuck in her pen of mud and gravy. Nobody would save her but her fat boyfriend Davy. It didn’t even really make sense. But I knew they weren’t being kind. They we’re ruthless. But I wasn’t the only one. Our 7th grade English teacher, Mr. Ariba was a very effeminate man. I just loved him. I thought he was a hoot. But he was femme. He had a heavy lisp, and walked rather like a queer. And he was kind of flaky. I’m sure he had a great imagination, because I had heard that he had written a couple of novels himself. But he would look out the window often with a sappy grin and then snicker like a squirrel hustling up the bark of a tree. This particular day there was going to be a feast, and Mr. Ariba was on the menu. He rarely had control of the class. But this particular day was really awful. He told us to read for twenty minutes “Of mice and Men” by John Steinbeck. I read, because I enjoyed reading and I wasn’t a trouble maker. But there were a group of boys in the back left rows of class that were shooting spit balls through pee shooters they had made out of ball point pens. They first were shooting each other, but soon they weren’t satisfied to just contain the warfare amongst themselves. Soon the aim started to spread out into larger territories. They needed Lebensraum. Soon a girl in front of me got shot in the hair with a really gooey one that stuck in her frizz. She spent the next minute trying to get it untied from her hair it got so entangled. Then the shooting broadened even further, moving from just a random shot here and there at someones hair, until they start to shoot towards Mr. Ariba’s desk. By this time Mr. Ariba was drooling with a book in his lap and his glasses hanging off of the edge of his nose. He was in deep slumber and his mouth was hanging open. The moment I saw his mouth open after the first shot hit the front metal panel of his desk with a slight thump, I knew exactly where this was going. The next shot pierced the top of the part of his hair, just grazing and feathering a couple of strands. I heard giggling in the back left corner as they zeroed in closer and closer to the bullseye that everyone in the class by now was fully aware, that it was Mr. Ariba’s mouth agape and sagging, with a hang dog tongue slightly dangling out. I heard a Steve Morelli say to a kid who was just about to shoot one, he said” here! Here! Let me have it!” The pecking order amongst the boys had already been established even by 7th grade. Steve Morelli was on the top tiers. Nearly all the
boys yielded to him. Steve got the doubled in length pea shooter, ( they had put two pens taped together, for the theory was the longer the pistol, the more power and accuracy one could get, which turned out to be true, it double the power.) Steve put some paper in his mouth, chomped on it and got it really wet and slobbery with his saliva. He rolled it into the barrel with his tongue, and held still. The whole class was looking behind them at Steve, every kid loved it even though many felt guilty because they were told misbehaving was wrong. Steve’s lips puckered like a bullfrogs or a trumpet player, the full power of his cheeks loaded the pressure into the cannon and “THeww……” It shot to like a bullet in rapid release. It hit MrAriba’s dangling drooling mouth square on with a “splat!” It must have hurt because the teacher exploded upright in his chair, stunned by the shock of the sharp pain that had been delivered to his oral opening. He fell back in his chair, the chair tilted back for comfort, and Mr. Ariba started to gargle and gurgle as if he were choking on the spitwad as he stared with gaping eyeballs up into the ceiling. A real teachers pet ran up to his chair and pushed it forward and Mr Araiba flipped over bent over his knees coughing up the spit ball. We all saw it, it shot out like a cannon onto the the dusty tile floor. Half of the class roared in laughter while the other half were worried for him, worried that he may have been really hurt. I couldn’t believe it, but her hardly said or did anything. He just said, “Alright, who is the wise guy?”
Later in the same hour, as the class began to get rowdy again, another boy back in the back left of the class by the name or Rodney Melcher starting scribbling behind the curtains of the window. Mr Ariba had left the room for a bit, and when he came back he saw Rodney giggling behind the curtains. We get a lot of fog in San Fran and the windows get fogged up, and it was obvious he was writing something on the windows. Mr Ariba said, “ alright who is that back there? Who is it behind the curtains?” Some kids cried out that it was Rodney. “ Ok Rodney what are you doing back there?” June Winchester said, “He’s writing”. “ Well I’m glad to see that you are writing Rodney, for that is what this class is all about, why don’t you show to the class just what it is that you are writing. Rodney Peaked his head out from the curtains and looked at Mr. Ariba with a big pleased and silly grin. He knew he could get away with what he was doing, his group had already taken Czechoslovakia, why not Poland? Rodney opened wide the curtains, and there in big broad finger painted letters in a heavy wet dripping fog lay the words, “ MR. ARIBA IS GAY”. The kids exploded in laughter and Mr Ariba turned red in the face. He walked over to the window with a womanly gait and with his soft and slightly plump fingers erased the words.
In this moment in time I have been captured for all of eternity. You will never see me again in exactly this shape and form ever again. The molecules, the elements are forever shifter and changing and replacing themselves like bricks on a conveyer belt at a factory. What you see before you is an idea of me, a rainbow of “me”. Essentially I am an illusion. For in a mere two hundred years who will ever know anything about “me”? I id take a couple college courses at a local community college. I enjoyed very much a course I tool on Russian Literature, I took a class in women’s studies, and also one on Philosophy. I like my sit coms, but I do have a serious streak in me. What you se before you is an agreement amongst atoms, a hidden agreement among them to coalesce into the unfathomably complex form you see before you right now. And yet when one goes into “me”, to really find out what “me” is made of, it is largely empty space. Soap bubbled molecules.
I graduated from Saratoga High School in the year 1995. My favorite subject was English literature. When the great series of books called, “ Henry Clay” came out, I was ecstatic. I devoured every book with veracity that could hardly have been equaled anywhere. They were for a younger audience, but that didn’t bother me at all. To this day I still read “A wrinkle in time”, or “Charlottes web” whenever I am feeling low. I have tried at short story writing myself. But I feel like it is such a dry process. Words seem so dry to me, and can hardly ever be expected to express reality. Words remind me of chewing on some old dried up twigs. The body is saying to you, don’t eat this, it is not edible. Or liking eating paper, like those boys in Mr. Ariba’s class, it is so bland and tasteless when I write. Like I am getting no nourishment from it whatsoever and if I am not involved in the mastication process, I think, then why in the world would the reader be interested? Whenever I write, which I occasionally do, I usually end up throwing away the first page. I feel like a phony. Like the only reason I am writing is just to make money and make a name for myself. I think it is called imposter syndrome. And I have it in spades. I quickly tire, and get bored. I just don’t have what it takes to be a good writer. But I love reading them. I have an auntie that lives in a small town in Texas called Texarkana. She is extremely well read in all of the great southern writers like Falkner, and Harper Lee. But she also keeps abreast at some modern writers as well. Sometimes I take a train from San Francisco all the way down to Dallas, Texas, and then I catch a greyhound to Texarkana. I just love to take a train. It slows life down. I usually have to ask for time off a couple months in advance from the grocery store. But once I get on that train, and feel the pull of that massive steel and rail. It is exhilarating. The slow pulsating time, lookin out the windows and let me mind fill awash with ideas plans and dream. My mind reflecting the patterned reflections so that one doesnt know anymore what is real, and what is reflection. There is something about windows and mirrors, I have never been able to quite put my finger on it. But I love them. Some may say, why would a fat hen like you care to ever look in the mirror? And your right, it reminds me that I am not Marilyn Monroe everyday that I look into it, but the reflections. There is a mystery in the reflection. Like for example, have you ever notice how creepy it is to see someone, to lock into each other eyes in a mirror? I feel like all of my hidden evil thoughts and awful parts of me stand naked to be seen. I always wondered if others feel the same. For I think they do, because I notice we both pull away our eyes from one another and quickly as we can. Like two criminals that recognizes one another immediately.
When I sit on the big open cushioned chair on the train, I bring out some of my favorite books. I have a book of Poetry that I am reading right now, a girl that has become popular on the internet. And she is a good writer. I just love it when a poem releases one for a second from the fog of their own minds, and for a moment , a pure perception is revealed. One cannot explain it in words, that is why it is called poetry. There is a certain something, a ineffability. Like smoke signals sent between two people where they are the only ones who know the language that they have made between on another. They often have some free coffee on the train. The last time I took the train as a matter of fact, I had my own room. If you ever get the chance, take a train and get a sleeping room. It is so wonderful. One sits there and watches the monuments of the landscape pass by with the sound of that train horn, one feels one is going back into time. To the old west. Once one gets in Texas, the landscape becomes avant guarde. Strange wind swept shapes swirled by the onslaught of hundreds of thousands of years of time. I love it when I am reading ga book and something out the window relates to what I am reading. Say there is some part about some sheriff in the old west in the poem, or in the novel. Then I look out the window, and I can really envision that sheriff. My inner juices get flowing, and sometimes I almost go as far to say that life might be worth living, even amidst all of the misery.
I also love knitting. When I tire of reading, I take off my reading glasses that make my eyes twice as large as they really are, and I bring out my sewing kit. I just love to feel the rhythm of the warp and woof along with the riding rails and the gliding metal and rusty steel as we peel away at the landscape shaping form like the wind through torn out mountains that were made way for men and women in the quest to explore their world. Lately I have been knitting a small carpet, or a welcome mat. On the from of it is says, “Home Sweet Home”. I have chosen one of those great American Landscapes that symbolize the freedom of the spirit, Native and the like. There is a plateau, a shelf, surrounded by a red orange barren desert that is peppered with saguaro cacti.
My auntie has a home right on the range. Things are pretty flat where she lives in Texas. But it feels good to get out into the open space and sit on her front porch swing, and shoot the shit as she would say. Can you believe that my Auntie chews tobacco? She has a big old can of Maxwell House coffee. She has had that thing for years. The same can! For 25 years. It is so encrusted with rust and black charcoaled chew and grain and stain that one can’t even tell anymore what is crud, mud or what. She loves that thing. She says she will keep the can until she does what she says is the last thing she has to do, “Die”. She is a real card. I just love her. She is as sharp as a whip. She may look like a hill billy in over alls and some white trash from the hills, but I tell you this is one sharp gal. At night, under the stars, still rocking back and forth on her porch swing, she would tell me stories. Some would be ones about the extended family, and then others would be ones that she just made up on the spot. She would have the can sitting in the middle of the porch, and she would shoot little bullets just like Steve Morelli wold do in 7th grade. Her cheeks would bubble out just like a bull frogs, and then like a watermellon seed, out would squirt this splurge of brown water. And she made the pot every time. She had a little moonshine tucked away under one of her sheds, that she would bring out on a special occasion. We would get slightly loaded, numb around the face and cheeks, and laugh and laugh the night away. Sometimes I would start to entertain a southern drawl myself, just playing with the idea of being from the south. I felt like a phony, I suppose it was that imposter syndrome kicking in again, but if I had a couple shots of moonshine under the start and under my belt, I didn’t feel like that much of a phony. When I thought about it, I could have been born down here in Texarkana and been raised to speak with a drawl, or I could have been born in the old Soviet Union living with 7 people in a tiny apartment, 3 familys sharing a kitchen and eating what they had the last 10 years straight, peeled potatoes. What is phony? What it real? Whatever you rest your mind on to be real is real for you I guess. If you think your from Texas, the voila! There you are. As I get older I realize how much of life is just conditioning. People are conditioned into their politics and their accents and their raison d etres. All of life is brain washing and propaganda. There is no escape. There is no such thing as being unbiased, there is only brainwashing, where were you brainwashed? By whom? When? And are you happy with the brain washing you got? Or would you like to be brainwashed into another direction fro a while? Its kind of like getting you hair done at the stylists. “Would you like a perm? A dye? You tried black for a while… how about a copper red? Should we try a bob? Or how about I straighten it out?” My auntie, I suppose I should tell you her name, It is auntie Eulalia. Some of my fondest memories I will ever have in my life, are like I said, sitting on that porch swing, watching her spittoon into the can. A couple shots of moonshine, looking up at the infinite stars above, in absolute awe at how much we who live in urban environments are missing out on the real picture show, the real movie theater, the sky above at night. Shooting stars by the dozens, you feel like your on a set or something, ou can’t believe it is for real. And then in the distance you can hear the coyotes howling. Oh is it just goose pimpling joy.
When I get back into San Francisco again, it usually takes some time to come down from the high the I get having been away for ten days. But then when I get back into Andronico’s and see a couple of the fellow employees I like so much, I feel good being back home and I tell them a bit about my journey. They can’t believe that a hillbilly like my Auntie Eulalia actually still exists in this modern world. I took a picture of her Maxwell House coffee can, and showed it to them. All the caked on crust and rust and chew stains and … oh … they thought it was so gross. But we all laughed. It is getting near the holidays now and I enjoy Christmas. I know there are a lot of Jewish people in the world and many muslims and people of other faiths. America is no longer and never will be again mainly for white christians. After I cash someone into a register, my way of getting out of the dilemma of whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”. ( if you say “Merry Christmas” only, you give it away that you have right wing fascist sympathies, and if you say “Happy Holidays”only, you show that, from the right point of view, that you have been successfully brain washed into the modern progressive world by left wing totalitarians) My way of getting out of the bind is to say both, I say “ Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!” I ask the if they would like a paper or plastic bag. Even that is slightly political in nature, some real progressive can’t believe that we still have plastic bags that are ru9ining the environment. And they look at me like I am guilty personally for having them in the store. But I think the ones we have are the ones that disintegrate after a couple months. Do you have those too? I left one of them once in a cupboard of mine and a year later I opened the cupboard looking for some old bills that I had kept up there and I saw it, it was all flaky and broken up into bits and pieces and flakes.
A Hair Cut
Names Ray Tanner. The year is 1929. I am a contractor for Geo. Mack., in Milford, New Jersey. I am a heavy smoker, I smoke about a half a carton a day. I smoke so much that I often just steal whole cartons from the local corner stores. I simply can’t afford my habit, so I put a carton each in both pant legs and then purchase one carton at the counter. Since the long rectangular box down each pant leg is so far below the counter top, the unsuspecting clerk never sees that I leave his store every other week with a great deal, I get three cartons of cigarettes for the price of one.
Every week I alternate stores, so one week I am hitting the corner of E Clinton Ave and S Washington, and then the next week I hit up the corner of Prospect and New Bridge. Anti- social you say? Disgusting? I don’t think you people understand how rough it is here in 1929’s Milford, New Jersey. I work 12 hour days every day of the week except Sunday. I have to put food on the table for my family. The cigarettes are the only thing that keep me going. I can’t afford to eat big meals during the day, and the smoking keeps my appetite down.
Let me give you a self- portrait. My hands are rough from the hard labor I do, the palm of my hands are calloused with skin as tough as shoe leather. The scabs and blisters that I have accumulated the last 30 years have hardened and dried into clay molds. I’m muscular and hairy. I am a classic mesomorph; stocky and well balanced to the ground, my shoulders are in perfect proportion to my hips, and my strong thighs support the weight perfectly. My body has given me a solid edge over other contractors. What can I say? I was made for this industry. My neck is thick and my head is slightly large in relation to by body. When I wear my over all my quads can hardly be contained and one can see that they are tight around my legs. But they don’t make em in any other size. My arms have been built naturally by the heavy work that I do. Occasionally I see these fine dandies in town that go to their country clubs to work out, I can’t afford those clubs and wouldnt want to, I get all the work out I will ever need right here on the job. Carrying 10 two by fours 20 feet long up and down stairs through the frames of new building we build will give you a great work out on your legs and back. Gripping a 70 lb bag of cement 200 times a day will strengthen ones biceps. When I have to hold up 80 lb plaster wall with one arm so that I can fix an electric outlet in the ceiling my triceps are worked more than any country club will. I love my work and it is hard. But I love the challenge. I am an upright standing citizen of the community except for the cigarettes. But here is how I rationalize it, when the economy booms back and I start to make some money again, I will tell the store owners out right what I have done and will reimburse them with an added bonus for interest. My hair is black and thick like wire. At home there are hair balls all over the place that my wife has to clean up incessantly. Our shower drain is clogged constantly. What can I say? I am an ape. I have what they call a classic type “A” personality. I get things done, and I never do shoddy work. I always execute the utmost quality in my craftsmanship. I build homes and restaurants and kitchen cabinets. I am a master craftsman. I built the house that I live in with my wife of thirty years. Still compact and firm as the first day it was finished. All of our friends that come to visit our home mention the quality of the cherry wood design over the fireplace. The richness of the grain and cut of the built in hutches, shelves and cupboards. The visual pleasure one gets in following the smoked oak beams that support the stairwell. The house is a half - timber. It looks like those old Shakespearean homes. Heavy timbers fitted carefully and joined and secured by pegs the size of cannon balls. Many of those seems we carried six men a side. I am the Forman. Always have been. Have always led. I was always a few steps ahead of other men in mind and body, it just seemed natural for me to lead the way for other lesser men that didn’t have the vision or the power of quick decision making skills that I had and have. I have a fiery temper unfortunately. When my men are doing shoddy second rate work I have a tendency to berate them. I just can’t handle inferior craftsmanship. It shows to me the the man doesnt care that much about his life or the people around him. For how a man treats his work is how he will treat his wife and family and friends. I give a man three strikes. The first time I bring him over to the side of the construction site and have a talk with him man to man. I tell him out right that I am disappointed in his work, and I proceed to explain why. Perhaps the frame that he put up was slightly off the level, or say he hammered a nail too close to the side so that the board is more likely to splinter in time, I tell him face to face without a blink in my eye. I am not angry at the first run, but I am firm. The weight of my heavy concern is keenly felt on the man, and most of them don’t do the same mistake twice. But if they do it a second time, that is when my furnace of a temper explodes. At this point I have lost nearly all respect for the man. I bring him aside but this time the rage is so apparent in my face that the man knows this time it is on another level completlely. I run a tight crew and there are is no room for crappy work. If a man can’t do his job, I will give it to another who has the drive and care to do it right. I bring the man aside and by this time spit and spittle is flying out of my mouth like I had just eaten a sirloin steak of the thickest cut. Th acid and purpose of my tongue he can surely not mistake. There can be no take or vague interpretation that I am anything but of the most dreadfully serious state of mind. Other men are busy working their positions but they can’t help but peak a glance over at me as I lacerate the poor man to bits with hot purpose and a whip lashing word specific articulating smoking tongue.
Most men resign and quit after the second try. They see the kind of man they are dealing with, and the pressure they can hardly handle. To be honest, I have driven many en to skid row with the bottle. Often on my way to work I have to drive by the slums and I have seen several of my former workers sucking on flask or two leaning their heads up against a concrete wall. That’s life, what can ou do? It is for the strong, not the weak. Occasionally I will honk to them from my classic Ford model T. I don’t mean it in the slightest of condescension, I am eagerly concerned how they are doing. They rarely wave back. Most of em are too sloshed by that point to even be able to muster a purse a lip to pronounce their own names let alone recognize me as I toot. The third try I don’t even bother to get mad. I simply walk over to the office trailer and write out a couple of legal forms and walk up to the man and hand it to him for him to sign. Often I don’t even bother explaining to him why I am handing him papers.
“Mr. Tanner sir, what are these?” They often say.
I reply, “those are your walking papers my friend. Your jacket is hanging on the rack in the trailer.”
“ I dont understand…” he explains.
“ No need to pal at this point, I gotta get back to my work.” I say.
Sometimes when I am walking away I can hear some whimpering over my shoulder…
“ but what did I do?! I thought I did a perfect job on the lining of the plaster wall shimmy… or the roof tiles were separated an exact inch to the millimeter…”
At this in I turn around. “ that’s just it… a millimeter aint,” I’m beginning to snarl by this time, the upper right lip is raising in the a small but building ferocious form, it lifts showing the fury that I am ensnared in…I try and keep it contained but… “ A millimeter aint good enough!” By this time the hombre has gotten my drift and he fades away appropriately from sound and view.
On this particular day it was a Friday I believe. I shortened the day for the men and we ended and left the site around 6pm. I was feeling crusty and dusty as I left the German Restaurant that I was , or we, were building. We had he frames up and we were just beginning the process of cementing slab wall between the joints. As I walked towards my model T parallel parked near the curb, I took a glance at myself in a store front window and notices all of the plaster and paint splattered and dried all over my head and hair. I looked across the street and saw a hair cut sign. It read, “ Hair Cut 25 cents” I thought to myself well I think I am going to head on over there and see if they can give me a wash and a cut and shave. I looed hardened and crusty as I crossed the walk , in fact it was hard to tell the difference between myself and a block of concrete. My workmens boots trotted like steel toes horse shoes on the cobble stoned street. When men pass me in the sidewalks they nod their heads to me as to say, “ I recognize you as a real mans man” and I confirm that they are right, with a nod in reply.
I entered the barber shop and draped my draftsmans denim over alls top onto the coat rack. I looked like a sack of potatoes on steroids.
“ how can I help you sir?” A man in white barber clothes asked.
I thought this a rather lame question, in that what did the hell he think I was there for? To buy a new model T? “ Id’ like a haircut” I announced rather firmly and with some assured volume.
He looked at the way I presented myself, with my caked on plaster wall and side board oils, and the groupings of turpentine stains that peppered and permeated my whole cloth. And then I saw him tilt his eyes and head just a touch and he viewed the tussle and toss and the hair that had been lost from sight on top of my head, a tornado of the days work was lodged in my locks. In short, it was a mess.
“ was wondering if you could give my head a wash, a cut and then a shave.” My beard was already heavily sketched in a five o’clock shadow. I saw him pause..
“ well is this a barber shop of isn’t it?” I asked.
“ yes… (he paused again)… over here sir… there is some coffee over in the corner if you would like some before I wash your scalp and ..” And then he looked again at my head with a look of unsuppressed disgust… “ That mop.”
“ Look if you don’t want my business I can go somewhere else, I am sure in the economy of today plenty will be perfectly glad to take my hat and coat and service me.” Although in all honesty I could empathize witht he man, my black mane was wild and untethered in a hardened clay sculpture that many the modern artist from bohemia and the Weimar would be proud to sell and call their own. I laughed to ease the tension. In understand. Do you have some tough tonics and gels that might break down the mass?”
The man chuckled in relief seeing that I wasn’t going to give him a wadded knuckle of fives in his nose.
“ yes. I think we will be able to collapse its structure. It will be like a tent. First we will take out the encrusted poles of hair and then the top canvas should be able to be brought down with the right mixtures of acids and spray.” He responded.
He bent my head back into a huge bin or tub. And then began to rub my temples to ease some of the slime out from the sides. I could see that he had a plan. In order to reduce the beams in my hair, he had to first work on the ground level to loosen the supports. “ I see that you yours and mines work are not that much different. I work a building much the same way that you are working my scalp.
“ is that right?” he replied.
“ yes I always work with the basic structure first, and then the finer filaments and details come later. Much later.” I said with pride in my idea and image of how I work.
“ yes well I am just building up the lather so that I can gather a good sense of where most of the knots are located. And then I will proceed to dissolve the main canvas like I said. What do you do might I ask?”
“ havent you figure it out yet? I am a home and business build and own contractor.”
“ is that right? What company do you work for?” He inquired.
I felt slightly miffed at the idea that I was working for someone still.. however it was true, I didn’t own the company yet, but I had several shares in stock and I was the head foreman of the company. “I work for Geo. Mack.”
“ Oh yea! I see your signs all along hi way 47. I actually knew a fella that worked there once.” He said chirpily.
“ is that right?” I said.
“ Yea… it must have been about ten years ago now. The guy used to come into the shop for a haircut and I would give him a discount because he was a regular.” He said as he swirled water around my head like a whirlpool.
“ really? Can you remember his name?” Now I was getting a bit worried for a second, because I thought that maybe it would be one of the poor suckers that I had to fire out of a duty to high quality and discipline.
“ Bill.. Bill Sarnof.”
The moment he said it, the words sent a ruffle up my spine, they climbed with authority up into by brain, which was now being drained into a sink of soap. Bill Sarnoff… I had just passed the guy earlier in the day, I waved to him as he sat Indian legged in the
midday sun, bronzed and out of focus from all of the bourbon he had been sipping. He was the one guy I did feel bad about, that I had maybe unfairly fired.
“ Bill Sarnof” I said with a modest abruptness. Almost like the name burped out from my unconscious involuntarily.
“ yes, have you heard of him?” The barber said as he lifted my head and proceeded to wrap it up inside of a towel that made me like like a cross between an Arabian Egyptian and the swirl of an ice cream cone.
“ of course I know Bill. We worked together for five long.. “ I caught myself, “ We worked together for five years.”
“ You said long.. was he hard to work with?” His ears perked. Like many people I know, he enjoys a good conflict as much as anyone else as long as he is not a part of it.
I took a deep breath. “ Well let’s just say Bill and I didn’t always see eye to eye.”
I could see the barber enjoying the suffering that may have taken place between myself and Bill, almost like he felt guilty himself about something and the mere mention of some other peoples drama was relieving and giving him promise that his conscience might soon be assuaged by some tantalizing tid bits of juicy gossip that he could chew on and masticate into a mass of alleviating rhythms. I could see just a window of saliva form and gather in his mouth as he spoke, developing like a web.
“ well thats too bad. Dont’ you hate it when people don’t see, as you say, eye to eye? “ I fraction of a smirk was lurking in the corner of his lips. I caught it out of my peripheral vision as be brought me, with his hand around my shoulder, over the to cutting chair.
“ Now how do you want this cut?” He said with a kind of renewed pleasure.
“ Keep it almost razor trimmed on the sides, and gradually shave it off in longer strands as you mold to the top. I want to avoid the cropped look, where I have like window shudders or awnings for bangs, you know what I mean?”
“ I most certainly do. I have just the skills to make sure that effect is diverted. Makes one look silly doesnt it? Like their face is saying, ‘peak-a boo’. He said with the silliest of grins acting out the visuals with his hands cupped over his face and then breaking open as he said “peak- a boo”. I could tell he was really revving up in relish the discussion about where myself and Bill Sarnof had a falling out. He was gushing irrepressibly as he tried to pretend he was interested in peak a boo awnings. He was rushing ahead with the clippers towards my dome but you could tell there were vaulting ambitions he was trying to reign in unsuccessfully.
“ how bout you? What do you do for work?” I asked nervously as he approached.
“ what do you mean? I’m a barber.”
“ oh heavens of course! What a stupid question.” His vaulting ambition had been cooled when I asked the mindless query. The thirst to hear of my drama with Bill apparently came in second place in importance to his job and it being taken seriously. I suddenly like the man for a second. And for that moment in time I forgave him for his accumulating salivations from before.
“ Ive been working in the industry for over 40 years.” He continued solidly with a firm jaw now absent the slender smirk. “Love what I do, wouldn’t want to be anything else.” He concluded. I found myself suddenly finding the conversation absurd, this man that was so proud of clipping hair. Was this what the man’s whole life had been multiplying and accruing to? The skill of trimming some hair on a brow so that it didn’t resemble jagged teeth? I began to chuckle. My buckle was tight and with each new building small burst of humor, it felt like a tumor was in my gut. I tried to cover it over with playing like I had gotten some phlegm down the wrong tract.
“ What’s so funny?”
“ oh excuse me, I got something in my throat”, and just as I said that another rupture of humor assumed major importance in my being that I could not suppress. I bursted with at first with what was a well distributed giggle that had lighten the edge a bit, but then a second round came in volcanic and needed to be addressed with the utmost seriousness with stern look and brow. But it seemed the more I tried to contain it the more the pressure mounted gallantly to the surface. I exploded again but this time in unabashed full blow laughter. I roared like a lion exploding around every rim of the surface of his being, into thunderous cackles, a mouthful of healthy guffaws. Then my head snapped back in the chair and I was staring up at the ceiling with red face and hardly breathing, the comedy had struck me so tight in my chair, my stomach muscles tightened into a cage of eggs cramping over my lap. Tears began rushing down my cheeks and then I accidentally farted in the leather cushion. Great bellowing cries of uncontainable laughing, chuckling, chortling, and sniggering hysterics had me paralyzed in an electric chair of comedy. Amidst the tears pouring down my face I could see the barber walking over gravely displeased and somber as he dropped a black comb into a cup of disinfectant and walked away towards some magazines on a ledge. I felt just terrible, I had made a mockery of the man’s livelihood, the one thing a man could really take pride in during the depression, was his work. I tried to think how I could get out of the pickle that I had jarred myself into. What could I say? I thought of a funny joke a man told me earlier in the day on the redevelopment site? “ that’s it! I thought, I will think of a joke that one of the men might have said, I scanned my brain throughout its cabinet files leafing through frantically trying to find a joke that could be substituted in and work. “ ‘Did you hear about the guy’ … yes! I found one!”
“ Oh I am so sorry … “ I said as the truck of laughter had finally been brought to the rubbered road of a burning stop. “ I had just thought about a guy and his joke from earlier this afternoon.” I said with great authenticity. The barber was over in the shadows standing and smoking a cigarette and reading a magazine. His graying hair was greased back in oily brilliantine. It was obvious he had taken my burst to heart and was trying to recover his dignity. I felt horrible.
“ it was this joke. You gotta hear it. ‘ Did you hear about the guy that got in a car accident and his entire left side got torn off?”
There was total silence as he kept inhaling that drag, that fag, hanging from his lips of suffering. He was wearing a vest with side pockets and he had a thumb dangling in one of them. You could tell he wasn’t really reading the magazine, but that his eyes were merely scanning it in an act to camoflouage the wound that I had given him.
“ Say by the way, I never did get your name. My name is Ray Tanner. I am from Milford.” I held out a hand as I walked over to him. The pressure of receiving a hand open to him for custom etiquette and diplomacy was too much for him to reject, and he had out his hand in response.
“ Finn, Finn Rudy’s the name. But you can call me Finny.” I couldn’t believe it, but another tremor formed down in the bowels and tectonic plates of my shifting self. “ No! You cannot laugh this time!” I squirmed to my inner self.
“ Nice to meet you Finny.” We shook hands. “Well have you? Have you heard about the man who was in a car crash and his whole left body was carved off?”
“ No I haven’t” Finny retorted rather stiffly. “ What happened to him?”
“ He is in a hospital now, but he is all right now.” I really emphasized the “right” to make sure that he could get the punchline without a chance of missing it. But he stood there thinking and mulling it over with the cigarette now coming towards its end. He took a big inhale on the butt and you could see the end flame in red and ash as he did. He paused again embarrassed. His face reddened in shame. “ I hate to say it, but I don’t get it.” He said as he put out his smoke in an ashtray over near the mirrors and his instruments and bottles of oils. This slightly annoyed me, “ How the hell doesn’t he get it?”
“ Don’t you get it? He is all right now? Like he lost all of his left so now there is only his right left.”
“ You mean on his left or his right?” He said like a school boy.
“ all that is left is his right.” I said with some frustration.
“ Oh I get it! You mean he is all right now. As in that is all that he has left.”
“ yea.” I was happy to see he wasn’t going to analyze it anymore. All of a sudden the great jubilee of rapturous laughter from before had completely subsided. I was no longer in the mood for even a single giggle. One thing nice, was in all of this laughter and what not I was able to side track Finny away from his salivating interest in my conflict with Bill Sarnoff, and I was freed from having to explain our falling out. Which was the one firing I have some misgivings about.
An Antique Shop
My name is Ruth Terwilleger. I live in Seattle. That’s me the back. My husband and I own an antique store. I have never been happier in my life. When the customer count is low, I will go wander the aisles and feel an object in my hand. It stimulates me so much to just feel a glass hand made in the 1890’s, or to play a piano made in 1912. I love to imagine what the lives must have been like who owned these items, these gems, these historical facts that have been misplaced in time. I love the miscellaneous, the hodge- dodge assortment of things interchangeable in time and place. To see the similarities over generations in what really is the essence of what people value and cherish. Say for example, a wrist watch from the 1930’s is placed next to a record player from the 1960’s and it just turns me on to imagine the strange connections that brought these two objects in place together for a brief time. The wrist watch say, maybe was owned by a man living in St. Louis who got a job during the depression up in the Northwest. Maybe then it was given to his daughter who no longer wanted to keep it after he had passed away. And the record player, made in 1964, a year after Kennedy had been shot, and I wonder if it ever played a Beatles album. Had the record player been in a living room when a radio or tv announcement came on the air to announce the assassination. Did it secretly cry as well? Could the two objects have any connection? Perhaps the man in St. Louis with the clock on his arm had once walked into the electronics shop where the record player was sold. Sometimes I will even look up on my cell phone to see what some popular names of some phonograph stores might have been in Seattle in the 1960’s. Had the phonograph been purchased at some big department store like Sears? Maybe the man with the black wrist band watch, with old fashioned time ticking hung around the man’s arm as he waled the lanes of Sears. Maybe this isn’t the first meeting of the two objects. I love the space that an antique shop gives one. Not necessarily the actual metric space, ( although our shop is rather spacious), but the psychological space it gives one. The juxtapositions of eras, items that were once the hot thing to get, now left hanging on a wall, or resting on a back room shelf, lost and Kindly tossed in with thousands of other forgotten relics of the time. There is no longer the chase, the race to sell and succeed, these items have found their true places in time, and now are resting, over the hill, no longer in the market hustle. Once held for their value in comparison with others of their time, their contemporaries, now they aren’t compared with other things for how they relate in market value, but how they are valued in and of themselves. A bronze statue, a brass lamp, a painting by a highly skilled painter who is a complete unknown, a golden lacquered mirror, a crystal chandelier, trinkets and delicate glasses, amassed. Like the sunken Titanic resting for eternity on the ocean floor. Its ghostly, but it is a wonderful feeling in a way. All the souls who have climbed up and down their stairs in their homes past these kinds of objects like clocks on a walls, watching their masters come and go from their living rooms.
I had a sex change last year, and you can see in the mirror that I am standing in front of that I still have the features of a male. I am going for a second round of operations next month. They will flush me through a whole round of new hormones that are promised to work. I know it sounds creepy doesn’t it? But I can’t help it, I have always felt like a female in my heart. David, my husband, is upstairs right now in our business office working on the inventory. We get huge lists, and all sorts of people come in on commissions. They have to fill out forms and sign some papers and then David puts their information in a filing cabinet. Can you believe that we still use a filing cabinet? But I love it. It makes the feel of the place timeless in a way. Not only do we have antiques on the sales floor, but also in our office spaces, how authentic can you get? David is a wonderful man. Actually, you are going to laugh, but he had a sex change as well last year. We had it together. He used to be a woman and now he is a man, and I used to be a man, and now I am a woman. Its topsy turvy, and who would have thought in all the interchange we would find each other, but we did. People are very accepting of us. At first no one in our neighborhood had ever heard of such a thing before. But I have found the homophobia in Seattle is quite small. Occasionally one will get a landscape crew member or some roofer that will make some snide shitty remarks, but for the most part the community has been very supportive of us. Occasionally David and I, when
passing in the antique shop, will just burst out in laughter out of nowhere and look at each other; but we know why we are both laughing, we are laughing at the absurdity of our meeting and the joy that we finally did. I was going up the stairs to the surgery room for men as he was going down for surgery for women. Our paths crossed just like two objects in the shop, and there was a certain something that captured us both. Maybe we had both been in a Sears Roebuck in another lifetime and passed each other there.
We get some wonderful knick knacks and items daily. I love to finger through old books that come in, yes we even have a collection of antique books. One of the most stunning things came in just last week. A woman came in with a huge painting of a nude woman reclining on a sofa. All she was wearing was an orange scarf. The colors were just exquisite. The pinks and the oranges and her rather plump and fresh skin draped along the edges of the couch. You couldn’t really tell if she was a shawl or a blanket, she draped across the furniture with such grace and movement. In those days women were seen as more beautiful who were a little portly, that gave them the sign that they were more fertile and healthy. Now I am no expert, but I imagined this painting to have been created somewheres in the 19th century. Whoever painted it must have been an absolute master. I had never seen such rich colors and the proportions of every angle and scope of the work was so pleasing to the eye, all you wanted to do was jump inside of it forever and get lost in the room that the woman was seated in. When the woman brought it in, I told her matter of factly, that I couldn’t believe that she was giving it away, that she was trying to sell it. I asked her again after David took her information down, if she was absolutely certain that she wanted to part with it, and she nodded yes. She told me that her husband had just passed away from an awful battle with a blood disease and that she was having to move out of their mansion of 40 years to apartment living. She simply had to get rid of some things. I told her that David and I were more than glad to take it and that if I could I was even thinking of buying it myself. The woman, by the way her name was Mrs. Vancouver, just like the town north of us, was asking for $3500 for it. I simply wasn’t going to be able to afford it any time soon, so Mrs. Vancouver left the shop and I
found a perfect place to hang it in our store.
Customer after customer kept asking about it, commenting on how beautiful It was, and I agreed with then whole heartedly. We would stand back together and just admire the colors and the depth of feeling as well. I think that was what was so extraordinary about the painting. It was the feeling. There was a certain something that one couldn’t put ones fingers one. Or couldn’t place in one’s mind. I think they say that it “was more than the sum of its parts”. I you looked at one part of the painting up closely it wans’nt particularly exemplary, and again if you went over to the other side of the painting and viewed it from there, nothing special again. However when you stood back, the full visual scape exploded into meaning and feeling and emotions that so abounded past a well crafted and calculated work. You almost hesitated to call it a painting. For it seemed to as they say, to “transcend” all categories.
As the days went by, and the customers came and went and I would be beside the painting dusting off some vases or what have you I would stop and look at it again. I wanted so badly to get up on a ladder and walk through the frame and into it’s world. Of course I knew this was not possible, but that didn’t keep me from dreaming. I would have loved to have been born a natural beauty like her. Resting like a goddess for the ages, ready to be admired and immortalized for my god given beauty that I hadn’t had to work for in the least. To be a woman natural to her core, praised and valued by all for just being herself. Oh the splendor of it. Every day the painting mesmerized and hypnotized me more and more, and I had to find out more about it. Upstairs in our book and album collections, we had a few volumes on the great masters of the 19th century. Of course they were almost all men, for in those days women weren’t taken very seriously in anything. I climbed the wooden staircase up into the second floor where we had our library of books. It was dusty in there, but that made it all the more mysterious. The smell of the dust and the must and when I rested my knee upon a sofa to reach for a volume, the one that I thought was it, a big poof of dust powdered up into my face and into the surrounding air. I stopped to sneeze. I rested my left pointer finger on the top edge of the spine and pulled Ito down at an angle like a lever and then I cupped my other hand under the rest of its spine and I carried it over to a desk that had an old wood chair kind of like the one that Van Gogh had painted in his room. It was a big heavy massive thing. It just have been nearly 2 feet tall by a foot and a half wide. Must have had around 300 pages. What a rich find. I opened it to the ,middle and I could smell the pages, the mold and … and yet it was a wonderful smell. You could still smell the ink on the page and yet it was such an aged thing. The quality of the thing. .. The richness of the thing. .. the mystery of the thing… the depth of the thing. I leafed thought an I saw Mary Baker, and Honore Daumier, and Fanny Corbaux and I couldn’t believe it but they did indeed have a few womens names in there. Many men like Paul Cezanne and Phillip Runge. But none of the art looked like anything like the one we had downstairs in her gorgeous orange scarf. I wasn’t even sure what it was that I was looking for, I just wanted to know… I guess for one, I wanted to know if any one in history any where in time had ever painted such a fabulous creation. I personally never had seen anything like it, and I wanted it to be verified to me that it was just because I was uneducated in the matter, and that If I studied a bit more into art history I would see that painting a beautiful painting was not that big of a deal. I leafed through the Alice in Wonderland book; it was as big as my torso. I could hear the wind outside the window bumping against it’s pane of glass. I didn’t hear any customers down stairs so I was in the clear to continue reading and searching. I felt a little like a mole in the earth digging and snooping and I loved it. At times I would stop on a page, and admire some of the works. Simple pencil sketches, charcoal sketches, scratches and attempts the artists were trying to say” Im here, I’m here , in the scratch, behind the line, can you see me?” It was exhilarating to feel the pages. There were rich garden scenes and trellis, and landscape broad and expansive. People in those days must have all been aristocrats or something. They all looked so classy and … and… I can’t find the word. Then I started coming upon a few chapters in portraits. This seemed to be something that I may have been searching for, but to be honest I didnt even know what it was. I was just curious. Henry Fuseli.. Louis Leopold Boilly, names I had never heard of before. Piere Paul Prudhon… Margaret Carpenter…oh yes! William Blake. I had heard of him before. It seemed to me that he was someone that didn't know the craft of painting very well, but he was an artist and that trumped the need and made his viewers forgive him. His bodies were out of proportion, and they were unrealistic, but the passion and the power of his ideas were so strong that one over looked it and forgave him for it. He also wrote poetry, which I wasn’t much into. Not his per se, just poetry in general.
“Here! Here we go.” I said to myself. “ These are looking more like what is hanging downstairs.” Many fine portraits of ladies in gowns, and seated at tables, and some in poses similar to.. what should I give the name to the one downstairs? For Mrs. Vancouver never mentioned it’s title. Here all this time I have been calling it the nude woman in pink skin and orange scarf. “If they haven’t named it, I will then! “ I thought on it a while… how bout Mrs. Vancouver in her orange scarf? That will do for now. These paintings I was viewing were starting to get closer and closer in look and feel every page I turned. I was getting closer. What the hell was I thinking? Was I going to expect the painting to have been painted by one of these masters? And yet I could hardly imagine some local yocal who never made a name for himself could possibly have painted Mrs. Vancouver in her orange scarf. I had a few friends in the art community who called themselves artists, but they simply weren’t in the same league. I have a good mind in general, and I can smell out a mystery pretty well if I do say so myself. I sniff it out like the snuff I used to snort off of my hand when I was a man ten years ago. I heard this roaring engine out side the window and it was deeply annoying. I wanted to focus on my mystery before me in this Alice in Wonderland book. “My god ! Look at that! It looks similar … it looks to be from the same artist! That must be the same artist..” I saw a painting of a woman standing in her blue night gown draped in the silhouette of the moonlight with an arm resting on a banister. Her hips and skin could be seen through her ethereal dress and her hips were slightly off set and she looked very seductive, and if I were still a man I would be interested probably. The engine kept roaring out the window. It was so irritating. Some prehistoric Peking man that had no taste for the finer things in life, but was more interested sitting in his truck drooling on the steering wheel with a blank gaze into space as he revved the engine peddle mindlessly. Luckily Seattle didn’t have a lot of them, but they were around. I tried to avoid Peking Man as much as possible.
Frederic Leighton, or Lord Leighton. See? Every one was an aristocrat in those days. Boy this guy sure looked like he could have painted Mrs. Vancouver. What a draughtsman. Turns out he was a sculptor too. I had never heard of him, but then I didn’t know a lot about art. Could it be possible that what I had down stairs was a 19th century masterpiece that had been overlooked by everyone but me? I quickly jumped out of the chair and carried the book on my shoulder as I half ran down the steps and one could hear the thumps of my shoes pounding on the Arabian carpet and wood. I brushed up against and bumped into a couple of glass wares and they fell off of the shelf smashing to the floor. But you know? I didn’t even care. I went up to Mrs. Vancouver and raised the heavy volume with the image of the woman in blue ethereal lace with hips resting in the moonlight glow. “ Surely” I said, “surely this must be the same guy… surely….” Just then David came up behind me.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
I jumped into the air. “ Oh shit! You scared me! “
“ Oh I’m sorry!” He replied being startled by my being startled. “ What are you doing?” He enquired.
“ This painting!” I said.
“ I know you have been on about it for weeks now. Don’t you think it is time that you scrub the downstairs customer bathroom?” He asked.
Now this kind of piqued me. Though I had had a sex change, and desperately wanted to be a woman heart and soul, I didn’t much like the idea of being some kind of house maid. “ Never mind that!” I said. “ Look at this painting!” And I pointed to the one in the book of the woman in blue. I could see that he didn’t register anything at the first. “ Don’t you see? Look! “ and I proceeded to bring the heavy book closer to his face. I could hardly hold it up, for David is taller than I am. But I held it up. Right up to his face.
“ What of it?” He asked with a blank face.
“ Don’t you see the similarities!? The well defined design, the contraposition of colors, the similar body features in the model?”
“ Not really. “ David answered.
I couldn’t believe he couldn’t see it. I brought the book right up to his nose. And David had a big one. He had your classic
Aquiline beak. He had a draconian look, long ghostly face haunted by shadows. That’s why I married him. David’s female name used to be Melissa, and when I became upset with him, or frustrated, I would call him by that name. That meant that the level of irritation had gone up a notch. “Melissa, now please look! We could have on our hands a masterpiece worth 10 million dollars at least!” I said with obvious excitement.
He peered more closely. “ Well I will have to look at it more closely, your right there is a certain similarity. He pulled out his reading glasses and rested them on his angular thin roman nose, they rested at the tip of it far reaching over the book. He hooked a glance with a deeper stare. His nose seemed to be inspecting it as well. His penetrating gaze glazed over the lines of the painting. I have a pretty good head, but David’s is first rate. His inspection was of the most refined quality and though David I am sure has no background in art history, his acute and astute mind could quickly discern and learn the course of events and their shared qualities.
“ let’s bring it over here.” He brought it over to a rubber coiled lamp that you could turn into any shape you wanted to project its beam. Almost like a kids toy, that had a laughy -taffy neck. He brought the lamp in close for a deeper appraisal. After all we both did have a little background in studying objects. Probing and scrutinizing them. Understanding their true values. Exploring them in a rounding dome of omni -assessment. We both moved in close to the book. It just occurred to me that I had no idea why were looking at the book and not the painting. I asked David.
“ David, why are we looking at the book so closely? Shouldn’t we be looking at both of them?” I surmised.
“ yes, why don’t you bring the painting down over here, would you Ruth?” Again it kind of rubbed me that I was the gopher all of the time. But that is what I knew I was getting into when I married him. I went over to Mrs. Vancouver and removed her from the wall. Can you believe that the painting was slightly lighter than the Alice in Wonderland book. I brought the painting over to David and then we both moved without having to say a word over to a large metal or steel table that had plenty of room for us to survey and scrutinize. Incidentally, I loved the steel table. It was heavy as a ton, it smelled of print and ink, it had scraps of paper and pens and its whole body gave the impression that it was saying, “ come over, I am a mass of something to rely on, I am a support for the ages for your heavy labor, I have been with you for years, and I will continue to do so. I am a bed rock of solid foundation upon which all of your most weighty projects can rest on and be scanned.” Quite a table. I suggest you get one.
We brought the book and the painting side by side resting upon the back of our sturdy steel commandant. We grouped the head lamp in closer for a deeper beam. The smell of the ink on the pages and the must and dust and the and the visual spectaculars that were displayed in the painting made one think how on earth one could ever be depressed? We were learning the vernacular of the art history world. I looked over at David and his head and nose searched for clues. His spectacles were engaged.
“ what do you think?” I queried.
“ You just may be on to something my dear…” he opined. His aquiline nose posed in the lamp light. I could see red and pinks in his nostrils as they flared in introspection. I even saw a little spidery blood vessel in one of them. They reminded me of something but I couldn’t remember what it was. Like a little red worm I saw once when I was a kid, it was squirming on a beach. I felt an exhilaration tingle up my spine kid of like a worm. He thought that we were on to something big! And so did I! I could smell it.
“ I have to confess that painting is extraordinary. And the closer that I look at the woman in moon glow blue, I am seeing all the clues of a match.” David speculated. For a second I felt like we were Sherlock and Watson. It was so fun.
“ Do you know how much money we will have?!” I abounded.
“ Forget the money, I want to keep it.” He said without an alteration in the face.
“ Ha! Your funny! Think of what we could do! We could move down to Key West and drink Pina coladas in the sun. We could finally afford the kind of sex changes that we really deserve! Operations that will finally make us feel good and natural!” He was still scanning.
“ What about the finer things Ruth? Art for arts sake? The value in a thing in itself? What about our antique shop?” He asked as his head peered up from the light with his body leaning on his elbows on the table and his eyebrows tilting. The table was a good 7 feet in width and 8 feet in length,, a solid mass of pure steel, and David leaned against it with his whole weight but it was nothing in relation.
“ Let’s not get too far into the morals and taste of it all.. let’s first find out if this really is the real deal.” I counteracted.
“ what is our next step” I continued.
“ Well I think we should take it to an appraiser.” He reasoned.
“ But can we trust them? If this is it… here! I have an idea. The first thing that we should do is buy it from Mrs. Vancouver!” I bounced.
“ Your exactly right!” David added. “ Even if it isn’t an authentic masterpiece I am beginning to like it so much that I would like to just have it no matter what happens.” David said, and this was the first time that I saw him a bit excited over the situation.
“ I’m not sure we can trust anyone if it turns out to be real.” I returned. “ What if we take it to an appraiser and they find out it is real and then the next thing we know they are gone forever to Hawaii or Tahiti? Never to be seen from again?” I supplemented.
“ Your right, if this turns out to be a genuine Leighton we are going to have to be very stealthy with how we go about things. I’m not sure we are going to be able to trust anyone but each other. If this is a genuine Lord Leighton, it is going to be worth hundreds of millions. Believe me.” He concluded.
I felt a tremor of irrepressible glee. A smirk brimmed to the rim of my mouth. I felt strangely evil, but I was ok with it. It didn’t bother me that much. I almost couldn’t remember anymore if I was a man or woman, and it didn’t even matter. Dollar bill signs were change machining and cash registering in my eyes and all of my pent up fears and desires had been released like geese into the summer air.
David looked over at me… he appeared to be judging me. I felt the heat of his reckoning lay heavy on my face. His keen aquiline acumen peering at me, penetrating my core and soul, sending sonic radar beams down into the ocean floor of my body. I felt small all of a sudden.
“ What?” I asked.
An Artist's Oil Rag
Leonard Johnson, a thirty two year old man, lives in a local township. Every Saturday, to refresh his spirit and mind, he walks for two hours in one direction until he finds a spot of Nature to lie down in and rest. He wants to get away from the watchful eye of others. He has made a mental note, that that is indeed what he is doing. Saturday’s for him are his day to shed and clean off the window of his soul that has collected grime from the opinions of others. This particular Saturday, being no different than the rest, he ventured out for miles into the country side until he felt that he was at a safe distance that he would not be bothered by anyone. He found a nice open spot in a field, and opened his nap sack and spread out a large blanket on the grass, picked out an apple from a side pocket, and rested his body down taking bites out of the fruit a he gazed up into the open blue sky. Oh what a release it was to get away from the pressures of social life. To not have to live up to anyone’s expectations, to not have to don the clothes that others have picked out for you to play on a stage of their design. Leonard would listen to all of the many conversations he had had over the week echo in his mind. He would calmly listen to the voices knowing that if he allowed them gently to chatter that they would dissipate after a time. He could hear the voice of his boss complaining that he hadn’t put the right garbage in the right can, or his mother complaining that he wasn’t doing his part enough in being friendly with the extended family. He could hear the voice of his friend Kindly criticizing his music compositions, that they needed to be edited more so that they were tighter and more interesting. All of these voices seemed to be telling him that he wasn’t good enough just the way he was, but that he needed to improve, ever improve on ever distancing goals that others had for him. As the wind blew through his hair he wondered what was the final goal that everyone was striving for? He would answer his own query. “ Security. I think it is security that everyone is searching for.”
It usually took his mind about a half hour of rest before it finally quieted down and he could start to actual hear, feel and see the clouds, trees, wind, and green rolling landscape before him. He looked up at a cloud that was floating by. He noticed that if he looked with a kind of floodlight vision, the cloud seemed to be moving slowly. But if he focused on a particular low hanging part of the cloud, it actually was moving rather fast. “ I wonder how fast that cloud is actually going? I suppose around the speed of the wind.” He looked at his cell phone to check the speed of the wind. It said from his location, 20mph winds were coming in from the south. It was a glorious summer day and he stretched out even more with a peaceful yawn, finished his apple, threw it over into the grass, and closed his eyes allowing himself to sleep if Nature wanted him to.
Leonard fell asleep and dreamed of being able to fly. He was in an open field in his dream, just like the one he was actually in, and he was flapping his arms and running across the green hills and valley. He jumped as a hill dipped flapping even harder hoping that he would lift off… and indeed he did. Slowly but surely he began to float a few feet in the air, and then he would flap with even more fervor and a few more feet he wold rise. He started to rise enough that he wondered how hard the landing would be if he stopped beating his wings. He took the chance and fluttered even higher like a butterfly now at a point where if he fell it would certainly break his legs. Leonard was now a good 30 feet into the air and he looked down at his blanket and he could see the apple core that he had tossed into the grass. He looked up at a cloud and decided he was going to make it to the cloud and then he would come down again having achieved his goal. As he drifted higher, he started to feel the cool mist of a cloud grace his cheek, and it was refreshing in the hot summer sun. He inhaled the cloud with a deep breathe through his nostrils and exhaled and was starting to not be able to see because it was getting so foggy with moisture. Slowly Leonard allowed himself to drift back to the ground, slightly fanning his arms with a little less pace. He spotted his blanket below and coursed his body and torso into the right direction so that he could land right on target. He landed gracefully on the shroud as if there were hardly any earth of resistance, and he melted back into sleep again forgetting all space and time.
Another hour of dreamless sleep was laden over his eyes. And then the slight fluttering of his lashes opened allowing flashes of summer sun to enter through his pink lit lids. “ Oh I must have fallen asleep. “ he said to himself. He heard the bird calls and replies of chickadees and cardinals coming from some tree boughs in the distance. His mind had been softened with sleep, and the rest had replenished his soul. He slowly lifted his upper body so that it rested on his elbows so that they acted like supporting jacks. His hair was in a bit of a mess as the wind slightly tussled and tossed tufts of it to and fro across and upon his reposing brow. He took a deep breath in and scanned the June landscape that shaped wonderful rolling vignettes of shade and light that cascaded across fields of gold and green. His eye caught something to his right that hadn’t seemed to be there before. At first it looked like maybe a falcon in the grass, or…. He lifted his entire body up off of the shroud and already feeling the beginning of a disturbance to his previous bliss, he got up, stumbled a bit, shaking off his slumber, and walked over to take a closer look.
It looked like a dirty rag of some kind. Like a sports rag that had what seemed to be paint stained all over it. He smelled it and it had the wonderful smell of an artist’s oil paints. It had a rich petroleum smell, almost like the smell of a new car, that made one want to paint, or at least look at a painting. He smelled it again and then he peered out across the vast expanse of ground that surrounded him and it was inspiring. “But what in the world is it doing here?” He thought. “ I would have noticed it before… there is no way that I would have not seen it as I approached the area to set down my blanket.” Then he became slightly disturbed. “ That would mean that while I was asleep someone had come by and seen me resting here. Think of how vulnerable I was.” He quickly checked his pockets in his nap sack to make sure that his phone and wallet were still there. They indeed were. He felt a great relief and sighed.
Feeling rather alarmed and awake now, he stood up and really surveyed the land to see if he could see a man or woman walking in the distance. He lifted his hand to his brow to block the sun, and like a soldier in the army saluting, he tried even harder to focus on the distant hills. But nothing. No one or thing except the magnificent countryside could be seen. Leonard slowly began to gather his things, for he saw in the distance near the horizon, the forming of some slightly darkening clouds that were appearing slightly ominous. The temperature in the air had slightly cooled and the wind had picked up. He packed the blanket back in the sack, and started to head back from the way in which he had came. At first her carried the rag in his hand, but then stopped, thought about it, and decided to put it in the back pack as well. As he turned the sack around off of his back to put the oil rag inside , he glanced back at the clouds and they were looking even dimmer, and he heard the distant rumblings of thunder.
He started to trot into a jog letting the pack bounce gently on his back. Running the low green grasses that turned into higher golden ones and he could feel the rush of their blades brushing against his hands as he occasionally would turn his head to look at the oncoming building of dark massive clouds. Clouds that were starting to billow into mountains of towering electric power over his head. Rain had not yet started coming down but it began to feel that at any second it would. He heard a thrush get weeded out of the reeds and saw it fly away to the right, hooking off into the unknown never to be seen again. He felt a cold exhilaration as the cooling wind blew on his face and through his clothes and the wonderful sounds of the grasses that hushed secret whispers to him as he brushed past. Hustling whistles of thistles, the sound of an invisible scythe cutting through the maze of what almost a gold like corn maize as his body pushed over like dominoes the field… and then the first pattering of large drops came down, one hitting his forehead and dripped down onto his nose, he tasted the rain and it had a metallic flavor. He was amazed.
The rain began to come down stronger and he could feel his shirt getting wet and he could hear the precipitation pellet his nap sack. He ran faster to head towards the closest road. He knew generally what direction the road was and as he picked up speed his legs started to get snarled in the tall grasses and he was getting bogged down and the water opened up from the blackened skies and proceeded to pour. The harder the pellets spilled the more he soared across the plains and finally broke through to a clearing of lower green grass and he could see a small highway down at the bottom of a hill.
It was getting so dark that he saw a car that was down and to his left with its headlights on driving towards Leonard. He could see the heavy torrent of rain crushing down in front of the car lamps. He threw out a hand to wave down the driver. He was sprinting adjacent to the car at an off angle trying to hail it down as pellets pummeled his head. He kept waving and fervently waving down the driver and the back red brake lights went on on the car's behind and Leonard knew then that he had been seen. By this time he was soaking wet and he could only expect that everything in his bag was soaked as well. Just as he approached the drivers side of the car, an enormous crack of lighting split the black sky in half. It must have hit a tree near by because after the bolt lit up everything in a blinding blaze of light, Leonard immediately heard a humongous explosion of thunder like a BGM - Tomahawk missile had gone off in a war zone right besides him and he was thrown five feet off the ground and to the side of the road. As he lay with his head buried in the orange gravel, a man opened his driver door and peered out in the downpour.
“ Are you ok?!” He cried. It was hard to hear for Leonard after his eardrums had been blown out like amplifiers that had had too much juiced fused into them; added the constant patter and clatter of the rain and the still intermittent forbidding resounding echoes of another giant bolt ready to blow an electric smoke ringed hole through the mercurial magnetic sky. “ Here! Get in!” He cried again. Leonard felt a tang of guilt even in the clamorous drama of a thunderstorm, a tinge of fear that maybe he couldn’t be trusted. “How does he know that I am not a criminal? And though I have never committed any serious crimes nor had ever really physically harmed anyone, I still felt a sense of distrust of myself and of the stranger that was beckoning me on into his car.” Leonards mind raced in the period of literally two seconds. He ran around the back of the small hatchback. He opened the back car door first to throw his bag inside and then he jumped into the passenger seat. He looked over at the person whose only characteristics Leonard knew of till then, was that he was a white man. But now he knew more. He was a man of about 55 years of age, almost completely bald, tubby, with shoulders that rolled forwards with a fuddy dud shrinking effect. Like the man had been much taller than he was at one time, but gravity had morphed him into a smaller marshmallow version of his once younger self.
“ Oh I can’t thank you enough!” Leonard said rather loudly because it was starting to hail onto the mans car and one could hear the pellets and see them bouncing off of the car to the sides of the road.
“ Heavens no… no problem! You don’t want to get caught any more than you have to in a storm like one of these.. it’s brutal!”
He explained. “My first course of action now is to determine if this man is a psychopath.” Leonard theorized almost unconsciously. “ Will I survive the drive?” Leonard half jokingly and half seriously considered. He got a closer look at the stranger. “ What kind of man is driving alone in a small hatch back in the middle of a storm? “ He asked himself, and then answered it rather quickly,” just about any kind of man could. Nothing weird about that.”
“ Where are you headed?” The man asked Leonard.
“ Any chance you could take me to the local township 15 miles in?”
“ You mean to Hartford?”
“ Yes” our young Mr. Johnson replied.
“ No problem at all. I am headed through that way anyway. No sweat off of my back whatsoever.” There was a pause of uncomfortable silence. “ My name is Hank. Hank Mink.”
“ Nice to meet you Hank. I am Leonard. I can’t thank you enough. Thanks again, your a real life saver.” Young Mr. Johnson replied. Hank was driving up to a pretty good speed through the winding orange dirt road and the rain was still coming down hard but it gave the sense that it may have lightened up a bit.
“ What the hell brought you way out here into the fields?” Hank asked.
“ Oh, I like to leave the township once in a while to get some fresh air in Nature.” Leonard answered.
“ I know exactly what you mean. I do it myself. Thats actually a reason I am out here myself.”
“ Oh really? What are you doing out here? May I ask?” Leonard inquired.
“ I paint. I do landscape oils, and I was out in the fields doing a plein air.” Was the explanation.
“ is that right? I think I have something that you may have left behind. I was wondering how in the world that was put there.”
“ Oh! Are you the fella I saw sleeping out in the grass earlier this afternoon? I didn’t recognize you!” Hank switched on the ceiling light and took closer gaze at Leonard…. “ Yep that is you!”
“ Here, let me give you this…” Young Mr. Johnson rallied and proceeded to reach for his bag in the back of the car. Just as Leonard was reaching he got the distinct whiff of oil paint. Feeling a bit more comfortable with the new stranger that he had just met, he relaxed a touch and pulled out the dirty rag with oil paint stains.
“ Here!” Th young man held out the rag like it was a dead skunk hanging from its tail.
“ Well I’ll be… I must have unknowingly left it behind.” Hank said in slight bewilderment. Hank grabbed the rag and tossed it into the way back of his hatch back.
“ So your a painter Hugh? Pretty cool. Ive’ never painted but in High School I took a sculpture class once.”
“ It’s all the same. All of the arts are all interconnected. You learn one and then you have already learned more than half of another: Writing, Music, Sculpture, Theater, Dance, Film, the Arts… its all the same.” Hank piped up with some enthusiasm and authority.
“ I have to say,” Hank continued, “ That you may not want to hear this.. but I did a painting of you when you were asleep.”
Leonard felt slightly creeped out. “So while I was sleeping”, he silently thought, “this pervert was painting me? He should have told me, woken me up.. asked permission.”
“ I hope you don’t mind, I saw you so restfully sleeping, you had a little grin on your face, I hated to wake you up. You had such a blissful and angelic look on your face, I simply had to capture it in oil.” Hank, noticing that Leonard was slightly perturbed, tried to clarify his noble intentions. “ The truth is I love to capture Nature and her creations in unsuspecting ways, so many people are caught up in self consciousness that they have forgotten to act natural. I love to seize a moment in eternity, an instant of the frankly uncontrived. It is so hard to find these days.”
Leonard was feeling creeped out. Was this guy gay or something? Some pervert that hung out in the weeds searching for young men so that he could capture them in their naked unassuming essence on his canvas?
“ No problem..” Our young Mr. Johnson responded.
“ I’ll show it to you when I drop you off. I tell you what? Do you want it?” Hank asked.
“ Uh… let me see it when you drop me off.” Leonard stated slightly confused.
They continued the drive for some time in uncomfortable silence, and normally Leonard would have tried to chat up some small talk to cover up the heavy silence that permeated the car as the wind shield wipers tapped out their mechanical rhythms on the window. But he was trying of late to allow discomforture into his life. By nature Leonard thought of himself as a people pleaser, someone who was always trying to be the eternal diplomat between peoples and their differences. After all, that was the whole idea of getting out into the field away from the town. He was trying to let go of some of that feeling of responsibility.
By the time they were making it to the township, the rain had nearly come to a stop except for a light drizzle. As they pulled up to the center of the township, Leonard explained that he would like to be let off in the middle, and then he could walk the rest of the way home. Leonard hoped that the man wouldn’t take offense, but was also firm about it as well. He really wanted to get into the habit of not letting others define who he was and what he wanted anymore. And this was good practice. As Hank came to a stop next to a curb, it was night time. They both got out of the car, and one could hear the sound of frogs in chorus in a bog. There was hardly any one around.
“ Here, let me show you the painting!” Hank said as he opened the back hatch and pulled out the still wet painting. He handed it to Leonard. Leonard looked at it. His first impression of it was that it made him look really gay and fruity. There he was all dolled out on the grass on the blanket with this silly grin on his face. His hair was thrown off onto the side like a woman’s almost, his whole body seemed to be saying, “do me”. But then on closer inspection, Leonard noticed slight wrinkles near his mouth and on his forehead that gave the definite indication of some aging. Actually, as he looked even closer at it, he thought in a way he looked kind of ugly, like it was the face of some corrupt prostitute whose character had become shady with petty hatreds.
“ You want it?” Hank asked.
The young man paused… “ let me think about it for a second.” He answered. He was at a loss… he didn’t know if he wanted it or not.
“ yea, sure.. I will take it. Thank you. And thanks again so much for giving me the ride. I can’t thank you enough.”
“ No problem friend. Next time you may want to bike or something, so you are less likely to get caught in something again.” Hank said trying to be slightly fatherly. Leonard took the painting and put it under his arm, shook hands with Hank, and walked away into the night to his apartment.
As Leonard walked up the steps and railings that were dripping with raindrops from a storm that had now completely passed, he felt odd and slightly sad. He realized that no matter where he went on the earth, he could never escape the watchful eye of The Other, no matter how far afield he walked on a Saturday.
A Russian Guitar
Tanya Volkov was brooding at the keys at 3am in the dark. She looked out her window at the the red and multi colored and swirling ice cream sundae cathedral in Red Square. She heard some ambulance sirens in the distance in the cold and bleak December night. Snowy Menthol blue northland Spruce lined her apartment windows, and she could hear the rustling of their needles against the window pane. Just another evening in oppressive Russia. With grim determination she puzzled over the next lines in her composition. Like a major artist from the romantic era, searching for perfection of only the highest aesthetic quality, she keyed a note to hear if it fit. “No.. try another… “ she thought. She pecked at a C note… then fingered a D… then tapped down to the D flat… nothing was working. She felt so at a loss. Nothing was streaming through, she had worked so hard for so many years; had studied and completed a degree from Gnessin Russian Academy. Tanya was under the firm belief that if one worked hard enough, struggled and strained and endured the pain, one would then earn the rewards. It might take some time, but eventually it would pay off. While other fools took it easy lying in the sun in Miami happy to settle for playing for some second rate orchestra, she was going to someday have her scores performed in the halls of The Olympia in Paris. With chiseled cheeks and worn out face, she draped her hair over the keys and played with her eyes closed; sending signals down into her soul, rummaging like a scavenger in a barrel of sound. Her long fingers were like spiders that crawled all over the board. But they were spiders that had gotten stuck in the same mechanical ruts. She could play the rut with impeccable refinement and with tarantula speed, but they were ruts nevertheless. She had reached a dead end for the night …and… perhaps…. In a wider sense as well. She felt as if her life was coming to an impasse. No one ever called her to hear her music, no one ever hired her to compose a piece for them, no one ever cared much about her silent struggles at the piano. Occasionally a relative would commend her on a song, saying “ That was sweet”, which made her feel all the more mad and frustrated. She didn’t want to be sweet! She wanted to be profound, earth shattering in her perceptive penetration into the human condition, translating it into sonic masterpieces that shook the very foundations of all musical establishments all over the world! “Sweet”?
She decided to take a break. She went into her drab kitchen that had a cone shaped 1950’s lamp from Stalin’s era hanging from its ceiling; and she poured herself some Russian tea. She sat alone on a stool at her kitchen countertop. The steam rose up and into her nose, and she smelled the cinnamon - cherry flavored tea leaves and it was refreshing. She had her feet resting on the under rim of the stool, and each time after she took a sip, she would stare blankly, almost hypnotized by the steam and her thoughts that were slowing down. She glared down at the cold, maroon, and tiled floor. “ What is to become of me?” She asked herself. Her silhouette was dressed in her night robe and her long black hair wrapped around and down her shoulders and arms. She was gothic, she was carved out by a detracting knife; perched on a stool unable to know exactly what it was that had been reducing and eating her away. She thought of a word, “Apophasis: the practice of describing something ( such as God) by stating which characteristics it does not have especially because human thought or language is believed to be insufficient to describe it fully or accurately.” She had memorized the definition by heart.
She got up off the poled high chair, set her tea on a ledge, and went over into her closet to find an old composition book that she had misplaced. She thought it might help her to stir some ideas. She found old scored copies of Grieg, Schumann, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky, scores that she had to study ad nauseam at the conservatory ten years prior. She came across all of the Russian composers like: Mussorsky, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky- Korsakov, Shostakovich ad Prokofiev. She loved to look at these old books that she had forgotten about, books that mattered so much ten years ago. Names that were biblical in their importance at one time but now were starting to no longer have the same meaning. Then she came across some American Women Composers like: Libby Larsen,
Renee Baker and Julianna Hall. The women names were token names to satisfy the feminists in the class, which now had been growing because of the increased freedoms after the break up of the old Soviet Union. As she rummaged and rumbled through more stacks of books, she came across a guitar case she hadn’t thought about in ages. She pulled it out. It was a cheap case that was so thin, one wondered how it actually protected the guitar inside. It had four buckles, one of which had already been left open; she flipped back the three remaining copper latches that had solid dust in-between them. Inside of the case was a yellowish gold fur like carpet that comforted the guitar inside. She felt the fur with her tarantula hand; it felt good. Then she pulled out the coal black instrument. A flood of memories poured through her as a scene flashed before her eyes from when she was a teen, that of being at a lake on the outskirts of Moscow with her father, mother, Aunts Uncles and extended cousins and their friends; everyone was drinking vodka, tea, and talking about math, Art, science, philosophy, music and literature. She felt a well of sadness, for a forgotten time when she had community; but it was a mix of sadness, love and joy. And then a memory of a song by Vladimir Vysotsky … and something about a submarine… and she remembered some young man was playing this very guitar on the beach, in -between sessions of poetry readings. This guitar was a part of the family and somehow she had ended up with it. It had red roses imprinted in the black wood body. It had steel strings, she strummed a D chord and it hurt her fingertips, and then she was amazed that she could still even recall how to play a D chord. It was horribly out of tune and sounded demented and awful.
She went over to her mini grand piano and sat down to tune the guitar. The blue spruce tips brushed silently agains the pane. Her eyes glistened as she listened to the wavering strings as she was trying to align them. That off sound of a slightly out of tune string, like a mosquito in the ear, irritating , encircling the center and then when it finally settles to a rest, hitting the note, it is like warm butter to the ears. She had a playful and curious smile on her face remembering that sweet boy on the picnic blanket some 20 years ago. The boy had taught her how to play that submarine song… she wondered if she could remember how to play it…
“ It is simple” she said to herself. “It is only a few chords. Good heavens it should be easy…” And with a continued twinkle in her eye she tried to hear out the song in her head. “ No that’s not it.. how bout this? Oh that’s it! Let’s try another one…” The sparkles in her eyes were glowing like stars as she went through trial and error with every chord that she knew or could remember. “Yes! It is a simple G, C, D and F progression.” She tried to recall the words.
“Save our souls,
We Breathe our last,
Save our souls
Save our souls!
Do hurry to us!
Rid us of Sorrows-
They’ve shut us in the gulf
And horror tears our souls
The next morning Tanya woke up early, so she had only a few hours of sleep, and took a shower and brushed her teeth and had almost forgotten about the guitar that she had brought out of the closet from the night before. But when she left her bedroom and came out into the morning light of the kitchen and living room, there was the guitar resting against the piano seat. “ Oh that’s right.” She chuckled. She fixed herself some oatmeal and poached a couple eggs. When she was done with her breakfast she shuffled out into the living room with her slippers on her feet and picked up the guitar to place it away from the piano seat so that she could sit down to the bigger instrument.
She brought the guitar over to a large black and smoky leather sofa in the corner of the living room with the idea in mind that she would rest it there, but then in a sudden change of mind almost against her will, her knee swept up onto a cushion and she started to strum. She quickly picked up all of the silly songs that she could remember, American Folk and kids songs like “Row Row row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream.” She pause for a second after she played it… “Perhaps no more profound words have ever been uttered in all of human history.” She thought. She played, “If I had a hammer” by Pete Seeger. “Nobody knows this”, she thought, “but many of the folk heroes of the 1960’s America were celebrated in the old Soviet Union underground.”
Tanya Volkov continued to play the coal black guitar for another two hours and the time went by so fast she could hardly believe it. Just then, in the middle of strumming and singing “This Land is Your Land” the man from the apartment above called down in Russian, “ I love it! Nobody knows those songs anymore! Bravo!” He said jocularly. Tanya put the guitar against the wall, and went and peaked her head out the window brushing the spruce branches aside, and looked upwards to the sight of a portly balding man smoking a cigarette with a white cut off shirt drinking from a bottle of vodka. “ Do you know any more?!” He cried with good humor.
“ I sure do!” Tanya replied. “ Want to come down?” She asked knowing that the man was a harmless sort. She had talked to him before in the laundry room, his name was Kostya and he had always been jovial she rationalized, added that he was quite a bit older and past his prime so he wasn’t a threat. He looked like a bowl of fun. “ Ill be right down!” He hollered.
There was a rapping on the door and Tanya approached and opened it.
“ Kostya!” Tanya greeted him with a kiss on his cheek and he replied in kind. ( It’s common etiquette in Europe and Russia to kiss cheeks as opposed to the American hand shake.)
“ I am so sorry, I forgot your name.. I am so ashamed….” Kostya said as it became apparent to Tanya that he was carrying an accordion.
“ It’s Tanya!” Tanya answered joyfully.
“ Oh how could I forget such a beautiful name?!” Begged Kostya.
“ Oh think nothing of it! It happens all the time! Sometimes I can hardly remember my own name!” Tanya gleefully exclaimed.
And Kostya started to boisterously laugh, it was obvious that he had already downed a half a bottle of vodka.
“ I see that you have your accordion! Good for you!” Added Tanya.
“ I used to play for the Soviet Army!”
“ Please come in and have a seat!” Chimed Ms. Volkov and they both walked past the piano and towards the large black leathered and smoky sofa.
“ Would you like some cognac?” Asked Tanya.
“ Oh ho ho ho! I’ve never been known to turn down some good cognac! Don’t mind if I do!” Kostya thundered in enormous
Tanya got back up and went over in her robe and slippers to the cupboard where she kept her alcohol and spirits. She brought down the rich bottle of cognac that glowed of golden good health. It was a thick like liquor, a golden brown syrup and the bottle had class. “Courvoisier” was the brand name.
“ Why not?” Tanya thought to herself as she cracked open the bottle. She could smell the calories fumigate the room with the heavy perfume of a strong booze. She almost got high just smelling it. She poured two glasses and the sound and the clink of ice and the drink and the chinks in the glasses, and the molasses like look of the cognac, was exquisite.
She returned with one in each hand. “What old Soviet songs do you know?” She inquired.
“ How bout Bulat Ozudzhava?!”
“ I don’t know of him… what songs did he write?” Asked Tanya.
“ Ever heard of ‘ The sound of the open door’” countered Kostya.
“ No… how does it go?”
Kostya began to play and sing on his accordion..
“When, like a beast, the snow
When, in a rage, it howls,
You do not have to lock the
Of your residing house.”
Tanya felt silly as this balding man with a pot belly soared like a volcano the lyrics of the song. He continued…
“ When on a lasting trip you go
The road is hard, supposing,
You ought to open wide your
Leave it unlocked, don’t close it.
As you leave home one quiet
Decide, don’t pause a minute:
Mix up the burning pinewood
With that of human spirit.
I wish the house you live in,
Were always warm and
A closed door isn’t worth a
A lock is just as worthless.
Tears were forming in Tanya’s eyes, the beauty of this simple man singing this simple song.
“ Oh heavens! I see I have made you cry!” Boomed Kostya. “ Please please! We are here to enjoy our lives!” He said.
“ Oh.. I am sorry… it just struck me… the song …the words.” She wiped away a tear from her cheek.
“ I shouldn’t have played it! Oh! I know! Lets play ‘this land is your land!’” Countered Kostya.
“ Ok” replied Tanya as she wiped away another tear. “ I will play the guitar while you play the accordion ok? But first, lets us make a toast to good health and good neighbors!”
“ Don’t mind if I do! Nostrovia!”
“ Nostrovia!” Said Ms. Volkov and they clinked glasses.
Ms. Volkov and her neighbor spent the rest of the day drinking and singing songs and he left, like a gentleman, and Tanya had one of the best times she had had in years.
The next day Tanya had a slight hang over but she didn’t regret the fun she had had with Kostya the day before. She looked over at her piano and went over to it to sit down.
(TO Be CONTINUED)
The mere sight of it gave her dread; almost a built in feeling of guilt could be seen in its frame. This big black coffin that had an enormous harp harpooned on its back and stacked inside of it… and what was it all for? So that she could sit in front of it… silenced in the void. She tried to avoid it, and went back into the kitchen. She thought on how so many artists and composers that she knew of suffered from the pressure of feeling the need to satisfy an audience, to curtail their work so that it was befitting for a public success. She had absolutely no such nagging duress, she was free to create and say anything and everything that came into her mind in her music, and she was free to reach outside of herself into the great abyss of the external world and pluck all of the imagined fruit she wanted from any tree in any city or country, because no one cared. She went over to do the dishes that had accumulated from the night before; when she and Kostya had been drinking their cognac and had decided to open a box of crackers and some cheese and a can of cheap caviar. There weren’t too many dishes to do, just a couple of platters and some glasses. She plugged the drain with the rubber stopper, and turned on the hot water handle. As the water collected at the basin, she dribbled in some blue dish liquid.
She imagined being one of those fellow students that she knew from the conservatory, who were living in Miami, and she felt envious for a second. She imagined them lying in the sun on the beach on the weekends, and then performing all through the week, the usual calendar of composers meant to satisfy the white haired suburban peoples of the the United States. The old fogies fogged up by inevitable age and decline, hanging on to threads of culture of the European tradition, monumental men (mostly) of great taste that history had accepted into its arms as being important and something to rely on as they hung dangling on a cliff peering down into their faded washed out futures; death and its final years. Towering soundboards that stood like mountains in the landscape of civilization, culture and history, that the old and worn out could echo and bounce their thoughts and feelings off of… Markers that stood like beacons in the night that could guide one out of the dark forested confusion of everyday life that every soul, everywhere, on every corner of the planet inevitably runs into, having half innocently taken one or two misleading paths. The elderly were comforted that these men were spokespersons on what it truly meant to live, ( even though they hadn’t a clue themselves what it was all about). Men… why always men? She thought slightly irritated. Didn’t women have anything to say?
She filled the basin of water and turned off the water spout and then recalled a brochure that she had thrown away into her garbage can; it was a brochure sent to her in the mail advertisement for a two year master composer series offered at a conservatory in Los Angeles. She sighed deeply at the thought of spending more money on more education that she didn’t need… “ I mean how much education do I need before I finally say I am there?” She asked herself in slight anger. Nevertheless she went over to the garbage bin and withdrew the brochure from some caviar stained paper towel. She stood up straight abruptly like one of those Meerkats in Africa that survey their landscape for other predators or prey, but she did it with a kind of, “you’ve got to be kidding me? Your going to do this? This is a laugh.” She put her hand on her hip and arched her back in mockery of her own, what she perceive as, vanity. She looked at the palm trees on the front. She walked over with it to the black and smoky sofa that she had played music on with Kostya the day before; slid an ankle under her and glided into the leather cushion. If she were a five year old girl she would have started sucking her thumb. “ Oh I just can’t do another two years…. How could I ever afford it? I guess I could take out a loan…” and then she turned around the brochure to its back side, and the conservatory offered a two week seminar on Mastering the Fugue in Composition: lead by renowned pianist, Martha Argerich.
“ There we go! I could do that maybe…” she perked up on the seat and a fart noise sounded from her ankle rubbing the cushion. “ I always have had problems with the fugue… But let’s face it, the real reason that you want to go is to have a good time in the sun and see America. Your not really serious about your craft.. about composition, your a phony.” She berated herself. She became serious all of a sudden and got up and left the brochure on the glass coffee table that still had a couple crumbs from caviar and crackers. She went over to the piano and sat down again. She quickly and manically started right into Beethovens 3rd movement of his Moonlight sonata frantically typing and striking the keys with final expressive exclamation points at the end of every phrase. The turbulence of the music, the escalating scales of anxiety notching higher and higher with hardly any relief, like a tourniquet tightening as a screw around a bleeding limb. And the breath, like a man drowning and thrusting himself upwards gasping for air between every interval. But then almost as quickly as she had plunged herself into the piece, she stopped… “ this music is great.. who on the earth could possibly deny it? And yet it is not mine. This seductive son of a bitch has turned me into his shadow once again.” She closed the piano board and went to the window to call up to Kostya.
“ Kostya! Kostya! Are you there?!” There was no reply. She paused and heard the winter wind blowing through the blue spruce, and then the distant sound of a car alarm, and as that faded out of her consciousness, she heard the distant knell of a church bell… tolling in soft refrain… lulling her into hypnotic frames, until the only thing she heard was the hollow wind haunting Red Square. That elongated wind, that never stopped. She closed the window and returned inside feeling the cold air pouring into her apartment.
“ That’s it! Im going! I’m going to go to Los Angeles!” She said, not out of joy, but as a parent would scolding a child. Just then, she heard Kostya’s muffled voice calling her name. She ran to the window, opened it and peered up… “ Yes! I am here!” She called up.
“ Why aren’t you playing your guitar?!” He hollered down good naturedly.
“ I was playing the piano instead!” Tanya responded.
“ Forget the piano! You should play the guitar!”
“ Come on down! I want to talk to you!” Tanya yelled. Just then, she heard the neighbor to the side apartment bang on the wall obviously indicating to her that she should keep her voice down. Tanya paid no mind. She heard the distant sound of the elevator bell down the hall, telling her that he was probably coming already. She went up to her door, peeked though the peep hole and saw Kostya’s roly-poly balding head with little tufts on the sides peering back at her.
She opened the door and Kostya from behind his back pulled out a bottle of new cognac… “ Ta da! I owe you from yesterday!”
“ Come in you fool.” Tanya replied almost shocked that she had felt so comfortable with him as to teasingly call him a “fool”.
“ What? Don’t you want to drink some more?” Kostya chortled as he came in.
“ Close the door behind you.” Tanya said.
“ you didn’t answer my question. Don’t you want to drink?”
“Ok, I will have two at the most, but I want to talk to you about something.” Tanya urgently held his arm and elbow pulling him over to the black smoked leathered sofa. “ What are you doing during the days of January 23 to February 10?”
“ Probably drinking and thinking of ways to get away from my wife.”
“ You slob” Tanya smiled wriley while ribbing him. “ Don’t you have a job?”
Kostya was slightly hurt by being called a “slob”. “ I got laid off at the factory, but I don’t really need to work anymore, my wife works for the state and I receive a pension. I’m almost at retirement age you know?” Kostya smiled, relieving the slight irritation at having been called, although teasingly, a pejorative name.
“ come with me to Los Angeles.”
“ What’s going on in Los Angeles?” Kostya wondered.
“ There is a seminar being held there for music, and I need someone to chaperone me. Los Angeles is a big, and I have heard, a rather dangerous city. I would like you to come with me.”
“ I think that you should give up all of that serious and elitist stuff they teach at those university’s, and stick to that guitar. I think that there is a real niche for you to be found in it. Not many people know or can play the old songs on guitar, you could really fill a vacuum. I also think that you have a nice voice, and you are a female… that is another added plus.”
“ what does being a female have anything to do with being a plus in playing folk songs?” Tanya was perplexed.
“ Those old folk songs are usually sung by grubby old drunken men. It would be a real relief for people to…” Kostya paused slightly embarrassed, “ to look upon someone as pretty as yourself.”
Tanya didn’t like the flirtations, or any perceived imaginings that she could ever be remotely interested in him other than a friend. She briskly moved on completely abandoning his compliment.
“ Would you be able to come with me?” She asked again.
“ Probably, but what would I say to my wife?”
“ Just tell her the truth, you are going to be my chaperone.” Tanya answered matter of factly as if nothing in the slightest would be strange about it.
“ I suppose I could.”
“ Great! So you will do it?” Questioned Tanya excitedly.
“ yes, but we will have to get separate rooms right?” Kostya mentioned like a little boy.
“ Yes, don’t worry, I will pay for everything, all you need to do is show up and make sure that I am safe and keep me company ok?” Tanya submitted.
“ Yes! How can I say no? And besides, maybe us going together will cause my wife a little jealousy and it will give my marriage some needed life.” Kostya laughed.
“ Yes, I mean give me a break, how old are you? Do you mind if I ask? I am 35… so…” Tanya said very officially.
“ Do you really want to know how old I am? I am 61.”
“ Your wife would be out of her mind to ever think that anything could possibly happen between us…” Tanya exclaimed. Kostya didn’t let his poker face waver out of place or change a millimeter, however deep down, it hurt him to think that in no way whatsoever she could never find him attractive. He held the bottle of cognac in his hand, raised it and said, “ To Los Angeles!”
They opened the bottle and had a drink.
“ Are you going to bring the guitar?” Kostya quizzed.
“ Oh heavens no… I wasn’t planning on it… Should I?” And then all of a sudden, Tanya became animated and pronounced, “ Lets bring them both! Both the accordion and the guitar!”
“ Now were talking!” Rejoined the funny little bald headed man. “ As a matter of fact, I think that we should just skip the conservatory all together and go to Los Angeles just for fun…That way you will save yourself a pretty ruble.” At first the idea didn’t sit well at all with Ms. Volkov. “No .. No” she shook her head. “ I have my music that I need to tend to.. who would I be without my music?” She uttered.
“ May I be frank?” The pot belly neighbor inquired.
“ Please…by all means” Tanya answered slightly defensively.
“ You don’t seem happy at the piano with your so called, “compositions”. From the little bit I know of you, whenever we talk about your professional music career, your face becomes a solid and contracts. But when you pick up that old Russian guitar, you really light up.” Kostya observed sincerely.
“ yes but that guitar is for fools..” Tanya replied brusquely. The moment she said this, she noticed that he had been hurt. His face hardly changed a muscle, but his cheeks flushed and the sides of his lips tightened.
“ I’m sorry.. I just can’t imagine making a living at it… and how could I possibly be satisfied playing 3 to 5 chords on a guitar for the rest of my life strumming out old Russian and American folk songs?” She reasoned.
“ I would think of it less about following the guitar, than I would say follow what brightens your spirit. You don’t know where a little piffling thing like that guitar could take you.. I see what it does to you…It could open up all sorts of doors for you. You don’t have to limit yourself to just those folk songs, you could make up your own as well. Happiness is an under rated state of being, most people torture and berate themselves and hence others as well for most of their short lives. I was once that way. I know all about it…”
Tanya sat silent. Split in half between wanting to believe what he was saying, and the sober realistic hardened side of her that no longer believed in fairly tales. “ Well what would we do it Los Angeles for two weeks then?”
“ lets go to the beach, play beach ball, see the town, go to Hollywood. See America! I have never been there before. I heard that the Americans are fun. We can play our instruments for money on the beach… I have heard stories about Americans being very generous and friendly people.” He said enthusiastically.
Ms. Volkov thought about it for a minute. She weighed silently to herself, “ I would save money, and it would be fun to relax a bit. And it does sound rather fun to play on the beach, who knows? Maybe we will make some money.” She smiled lost in thought.
Kostya noticed her smirk after staring straight ahead at the coffee table.
“ Lets do it!” He rejoined.
“ You know? I really could use a break from composition, and it would be nice to save the money…” she hesitated, and then proclaimed, “ yes! By golly lets do it! Let’s play the guitar and the accordion on the beach and see the Americans!”
“ What shall we call our band?” Kostya raised his glass.
“ oh…” Tanya chuckled and said, “I hadn’t thought of that…”
“How about ’The New Soviets’? he Hypothesized.
“ You know.. that isn’t a bad name. I kind of like it.” She reacted.
“To America!” Kostya lifted his glass of cognac.
“ To America!” Ms. Volkov raised her glass.
Kostya and Tanya went to Los Angeles during the period of January 23- February 10 and had one of the best times of their lives. They stayed in separate rooms, and Kostya was always a gentleman chaperoning Ms. Volkov around the glamorous American city. They made $42.37 on the beach the whole time that they were there. And though Kostya secretly had fallen in love with Tanya, and had wished that in some way she would feel the same towards him, he never let on to her his feelings. They had such a wonderful time that Tanya decided a year later to move permanently to Los Angeles to follow a recording artist career as a songwriter with a guitar. Kostya came home from their trip, and his wife had indeed become jealous, and the trip had stirred up some needed zest into their relationship. And now Kostya does not try to avoid her, indeed, he doesn't mind being around her that much.
Ms. Volkov now at this very moment in time, can be seen receiving a back massage by her pool in Beverly Hills from her new lover by the name of Eduardo Cicerelli. They wear shades and their bodies are sculpted like stars; Tanya has made millions and she smiles often, and has completely shed her old self, the one brooding at the piano at 3am. Trying to be some Romantic composer suffering for her Art. In actuality, she has never looked at a piano again and has never looked back to her days in Moscow and it was all thanks to Kostya, for seeing that twinkle of joy in her eyes when she played that old Russian guitar.
A Night Light
Andrew is three years old. He is in his blue room in his blue bed, it is 9pm. He looks up at his blue curtains that have white sailboats on them, he can barely see them because only his night light is on; its across the room, past a blue shag rug, down near the wood floor. Andrew has toys littered all over below, trucks, race cars, childrens books, a box of crayons, stuffed animals, and his Jack in the box which he had just received for Hanukkah. Two dangling white plastic handles in the shape of small bells, were attached to a loop of string, which acted as a pulley to open and close the ocean scened drapes; which Andrew imagined acted like an accordion, or the bag that held his Jack in the Box to the metal can from which it sprang, or the puppet theater stage that he had just seen at his older brothers friends birthday party.
Andrew imagined that he was on a loan boat, lost at sea, and his bed was the boat upon which his life depended. Below, on the floor below lay a dark uncaring sea filled with monsters and sharks, from which if he fell into, he would most certainly drown or be devoured. But he wasn’t scared in a real sense , it was play fun scared. He enjoyed dreaming up these challenges and scenarios, to see if he was up for them. This night he could feel the gentle rocking of the ocean waves under his bed, and he assured himself that he was safe, and that the boat that he saw floating on could handle this particular storm. He looked up again at his blue curtains and fantasized that the boats on them held other fellow sailors steering the gentle winds just as he was.
Slowly the bobbing of his boat and the soft lowering and rising of his body was hushing him to sleep. He could feel his eyes dipping just above and below the water line of unconscious sleep. Just then, he was struck by what he thought may be a lightning storm, for he saw a light flicker and flash on his ceiling, where he had located the Big Dipper in the plaster spots and marks the night before. But this was real! This was no fantasy!… it flared and twinkled one more time, and then it went out! And poor Andrew was left in the pitch black of a starless night. Horrified! He felt the adrenaline shoot through his body, and almost immediately starting calling out, “Mom! Mom! Mom!…..” He began to cry. “Mom! Mom!….” He waited, usually she was pretty quick to assuage his fears, she would come in and sing him Brahms lullaby, “ Lullaby, and goodnight, sweet roses bedight, let them sleep swim into thy head, where the pillow lies ahead..” He could never remember the exact words. But oh how he wanted to hear them now! “Mom! Mom!…..” He cried again, and then he stopped in complete stillness… but only silence could be heard.
“ Oh what am I to do?” He thought as tears came pouring down his face. “I have been left alone in this horrible cave of ocean waves, surely the monsters below will get me!” He looked across his room where he knew the night light to be roughly, and now that his eyes had adjusted a bit, a moonbeam through the curtain casted the smallest of silver glimmers for him to see where he had to go.. to bring turn it back on. He knew what had happened, the plug was a loose one, and had slipped out of its socket, it had happened once before. He peaked his head over the edge of his raft, into the ocean below that seemed to have no end to its depth. He tried one more time, “ Mom! Mom!….” he paused to hear if she was coming… but nothing.
With tears still streaming down his face, he slid over the edge of his boat into the dark blue forbidding water. His hands reached down and touched the wood floor, he supported the rest of his body with his small arms while allowing his legs to gradually fall and climb down the side of the bed. He was in the ocean! He had to make it across the sea before the sea-snakes, sharks and monsters were able to get a pull on one of his legs. With frantic crawling and bawling, like a sea- urchin, he scuttled across to the shag rug, “If I can just make it to the blue rug, I will find safety there”. For Andrew thought the rug as a life- saver, that could give him some temporary solace. He made it! Oh he rested like a man that had been washed up onto a beach.. he rested, quickly pulling in his legs that were hanging over the end of the rug. He huddled in the middle of the square carpet. Andrew also imagined that the mat was a magic carpet, he wasn’t sure which one of these for sure that it was, whether it was a life saver or a magic carpet, but he knew that it was his friend. He had made it half way. Now his eyes had adjusted even more, and the moon’s silver beam broke through a slice of the curtains with more visibility, projecting down a sliver of hope, throwing a shafting shimmering gleam towards the wall where he knew the night light to be.
“Maybe I can keep most of my body on the magic carpet, and reach with my other half to find the light that must have fallen on the floor.” Andrew problem solved, starting to not cry quite so hard, seeing that it was possible that he might be able to get himself out of this jam that he was in. As he reached his hand into the dark, he felt his hand bump into something, and he frighteningly jutted his hand back thinking that it may be a monster. But then as he had an instant to reflect, he realized it was his Jack in the Box; another one of his friends. He reached for it again and dragged it back towards himself with both arms, as his belly held up all of his limbs for balance. He loved the song of “Pop goes the Weasel” and so he wound the box up, and listened to the music play, popping at the very end. The familiarity of the toy and its tune had given Andrew renewed courage. He reached again into the dark.. letting his hand move around into the unknown, not knowing what creatures awaited, this time under the legs of the dresser.
No matter how much he kept fiddling around with his hand in the dark, he couldn’t find it, and began to despair again. “Mom!…..Mom!….” he wept. But still no response. “Where on earth could she be?” He exclaimed.
He tried again to search for the object and this time his hand bumped into the angle where the wall meets the floor, and he felt his pinky touch something that moved, “so it must have been a fairly light thing”. He concluded, believing that it just might be the goal of his search. He stretched out his arm an additional time, this time pulling the skin underneath his arm pit so it hurt a bit. He got it! But just as he lifted his hand to bring it back to the magic carpeted raft of safety, his hand banged into the dresser and the light went flying out of his grip. But he heard where it went. It had slide behind the dresser. Tempted to want to call out to his mother again, he braved the journey, and pushed his body completely off the magic carpet and into the ocean of danger. He reached his arm as fast and far as he could into the dusty floor behind the dresser, hoping to move as swiftly as possible so that no unknown terror like a teradactal from behind the furniture would grab and perhaps rip his arm off. He scrambled on his belly, reaching and pulling the skin again under his arm pit. “I got it!” He actually called out loud this time, towing it towards him with double fisted and clenched fingers, ensuring that there was no way that he could lose hold of it this time. He fumbled over at the lower part of the wall, feeling for the electric outlet; feeling like a blind man with a cane stumbling into stop signs in the street and sidewalks, or like himself trying to find the right block from one of his toys and fitting it into place with the appropriate hole, he did trial and error until he achieved his goal. “Got it!” The prongs slid into the gaps and ‘bing’ the light went back on.
“Oh what relief!” Andrew thought. Words were still new to him, and when he thought to himself, it was usually in the new words that had learned, or sometimes it was just a color of emotions that would wash his mind like watercolors and shapes, he knew what the colors and shapes meant even though they had no phonetics or symbols attached to them. “ Oh what relief” was one of those occasions where the image of a white fluffy cloud was messengered to him in his brain, to symbolize “comfort”.
Feeling like a hero, having faithfully fulfilled his quest, Andrew now fantasized that not only had he saved his own life amidst a myriad of monsters threatening to consume him, but his magic carpet had now turned into a small village of little townsfolk, that cheered around him like he was a huge beached whale whose blubber now fueled the whole towns street lamps. Only there was nothing malicious nor treacherous about it.. he was glad to be a harpooned beast, the center of the new lighted festivities. Andrew imagined them gathering around him in the hundreds, and pushing him off back off from the magic carpet, or beach, or lifesaver, and into the ocean deep, to make his voyage back to his main ship, his bed. The return was an easy affair, and where on his way to get the night light he was in a veil of tears and fears, now he was confidant and assured that he could brave any waters. Where before he scuttled on an ocean floor, now he swam with a trust in the far deep below, like a great blue whale brimming with aplomb . He waved to the townspeople on the blue shag rug as he swam away closer to his bed.
Reaching the edge of the mighty liner that was now his bed, he scaled an arm up to a mattress handle, and even though he could have just stood up and hopped into bed, he liked to pretend now that maybe his legs had indeed been bitten by some sharks, and so now he had to pull himself up with his own sheer force of will. He loved the challenge. Imagining the edge of his bed had a small ladder dropping down its side, he pulled and climbed and grunted his way up until finally he made it back into bed.
He smiled. He was so proud of himself. He had taken the risk, swam the wine dark sea, clinched his goal just in the nick of time, the people loved him on a far off land for bringing them oil for their lamps, and now he could continue to look up at the Big Dipper, feel his schooner gently sway on the waves, he could look at the white bell shaped handles on the curtains, and slowly allow his eyes to dip just above and below the water line of unconscious sleep, surrounded by white sailboats in a room filled with blue ocean.
A Crochet Blanket
Rob Mitchell, the year 1974, a fat lonely man, a beer can, a TV set, a couch, a cliche, but a very real one; for most men and women are cliches. The bowl of the belly spilling out over his belt, from which his black ACDC t-shirt unable to contain. The beer, colt 45 with a wild mustang kicking, a six pack on the coffee table. The news,
“ Will we go to war with Korea again Sam?”
“ I think this is one the of the presidents greatest blunders”
“ Your completely wrong Todd, Korean Secret agents killed 31 Americans last year, though the media never covered it. The Koreans got what they deserved.”
“ With a war already being fought in Vietnam, with unemployment at an all time high in thirty years, with the energy crisis, I just can’t think of a worse time to open up this can of worms”
“ The president is now officially a war criminal, anyone one who disagrees has too seriously question themselves and their morality”
“ What about the innocent 31?”
“ Ok, breaking news now just in.. President Nixon told his chief of staff to ‘make it look like a burglary’… I repeat… the President is now on tape conceding…..”
“ What a fucking shit hole the world is… it never ends… in the 40’s it was the Germans and the Japs, now its someone else… change the clothes, change the names, change the dates, and what you have is the same story being told over and over and over again, with slightly different staging in each coming generation.” Rob said to himself, as he swilled and emptied another can. His mind was recalled to 8 years before, the scene, his high school philosophy class:
“ Wars will always be.. it is human nature to have wars” The younger Rob proudly stated in the class.
“ It’s because of people like you that the wars never end.” His half- friend, Ryan said with a tenor of hatred in his voice in response to the debate. The rest of the students laughed siding with Ryan.
Rob had been taken aback, thinking that maybe he was a fool after all, if everyone was laughing at him. Did it really all come down to this? That if one believed wars would never end, then one was not considered a mere passive pessimist viewing history from a neutral sideline, but that one was actually promoting the idea of war. Was it that cut and dry? If he believed, like his so called friend did, that there would come a day when actual eternal world peace would be achieved, and that anyone who believed men and women would never cease killing one another was the eternal enemy of the future perfection of a Shang ri la Utopian state; could he really rest with such a self -righteous, puritanical and snotty moral elitist view of himself and his side in the debate, in relation to the rest of the world? Look what happened in the Soviet Union in their crusade for Paradise, they made a living hell.
Rob consoled himself, “No , that Ryan was a fool. Look at all the wars that have taken place throughout the world in just those little eight years since that debate in class. Just look at the one now forming before my eyes on this black and white tv screen.” He felt intellectually superior to Ryan, whom he hadn’t seen since those teenage days. “ Idiot” Rob muttered again to himself. “ Unless he would think that I , sitting in my little apartment, drinking beer and working at the chocolate factory 6 days a week was somehow the cause of all of these military conflicts. What an asshole that guy was, I wonder why I ever liked him; I hope he remembered that debate when all of these clashes between nations took place over this, now nearly a decade of space in time.” Rob repeated.
Rob kept peering into the void of the black and white box, on the one hand hating it, but then on the other hand he enjoyed seeing the world go to shit.
“I see no reason to think of life as something worth living, and obviously many other people, by the looks of it on the news, agree with me.” He chuckled ironically, but then caught himself. “ wait a second, I am being too hard on myself, sure I hate the world, I have that in common with those people on tv blowing each other up, but it isn’t because I am one of them, it is BECAUSE of them!” He said with urgency. But then he thought further, and thought maybe those people that were causing all of the wars in the world, were once like him, watching horror stories nightly on a flickering set, and then they went out and started a new battle, carrying on the torch and tradition. Was it contagious? Like a relay race? “ No this is absurd, I hate the world, but I am no blood thirsty criminal. Isn’t a guy allowed to at least be a curmudgeon and misanthrope within the privacy and confines of his own home?
He kept watching, then as story came on about a High School teacher having an affair with one of his Junior high students, and now will be facing 30 years in prison; then came on a fire in Australia, that was a sure sign of the coming ice age; then a story about a woman nurse serial killer that had knocked off 45 of the elderly in a nursing home with overdoses of insulin; then a story about how the United States was losing China market; followed by the weather and sports.
“Oh what a headache.” He groaned. He had to get up early the next day for work at the chocolate factory. Beer had become his wife, his surrogate mother. Just one more. He pulled another can out of the plastic loop that was hooking its top rim, and cracked another open FUISSSSTTT! The canny echo and foam of pressure released.
The tv flickered, flashed, and then came the looping of the frames and film, the picture slowly spinning like a gambling machine, the dial turning like a roulette, the image rotating on a wheel half concealed; then it began to spin faster until it was impossible to catch a glimpse of any real communication or useful information from the thing. He got up and banged on its top. “Pow!” And the picture shot into place, but just for a second, and then slowly like a rubber band being wound up, it looped again.
“ oh great.. this fucking thing isn’t going to break down on me is it?” Then he positioned himself straight in front of the TV set, and began to talk to it, “ Here me out! I hate you, I despise you, and yet I need you. Don’t leave me!” He banged on it again.
When he banged on it a second time, he did it with a violence that had been building in him over the years that he hated in himself. “ this is how men become ‘wife -beaters’” he remarked. “They start out on their TV”s and then… well that is why you live alone… your a beast.. a monster.. your saving women the trouble.” And yet in a way it was the very isolation that he had imposed on himself, that was also creating the hostility and anger. The chicken and the egg… the creator and the creation… “ do we create the thing we hate? Do we defend ourselves from monsters of our own creation? Or are the monsters real?
The TV went out for good, producing pure static and sparks. The “snow” as it is called. “Maybe the station automatically turns of at 9… no.. this is way too early, last night the station went on all the way till 1 am. There is something definitely wrong with the set. He went up to it again, and moved the antenna around, but it was of no use, his surrogate mother had gone to bed, it was past her bed time.
“ Fucking piece of shit! Its only 9pm and I have nothing to do.. what the fuck am I going to do with myself?” Rob Mitchell had become so accustomed to BEING entertained, that he didn’t know how to entertain. “ My life sucks! I hate my job, I hate living alone, I hate this fucking TV. I hate the world, I hate everything!” Then the image and sound of Ryan’s voice in the debate raced and rang through his minds screen, “ It’s because of people like you that the wars never end.” The contempt that the voice had for him… and yet wasn’t Ryan’s hatred another example of proving his point? Rob queried. Wars often start off as simple verbal disputes and then escalate… had Ryan said peacefully, ‘no unfortunately I think you are wrong Rob, I think there is a way to find everlasting peace here on earth, I can understand your pessimism, I have felt it myself, we shouldn’t give up hope.” If Ryan’s voice had been tempered in a less venomous way maybe Rob would have agreed. But he heard a snarking, snapping, scalding disdain charged on a bitter and burnt tongue caustically chastising him, causing him to chafe at the bit. Now, beginning to pace the floor, and stumbling over an empty beer, he felt his life was in shambles. His dirty clothes were tossed all over his apartment: in his bathroom, his living room, his bedroom; piles of sour unclean linen littered the place giving off a smell that only others could smell; he had lived in it so long he could no longer sense it, he had become so accustomed.
“What the fuck am I going to do with myself?” He bounced the question again. “ something has to change, I can’t live like this anymore.” He quickly went over to his phone.
Holding the long chorded phone that was nailed into the wall, he put a pointy finger into the rotary dial. Chach chassss Chach chass cha.. cha.. chasssssssssssss 7 times for seven numbers some short like SOS, others seemingly taking forever to get around the circle. Ringing.. ringing.. “ Greg! What’s going on?…. Yea? …… Yea?……. wanna go out for a beer?……… ah come on… just one…. Are you sure? ………….how bout Friday night? Your fucking ice fishing already? Are the lakes even frozen yet? …….alright man… have it your way… ok… talk to you later.” They hung up, “Fucker” Rob said after he put the receiver down.
Rob had been having a hard time sleeping of late, he wasn’t able to fall asleep till 3 am sometimes, and he knew that tonight was going to probably be no different. He gazed down at a crocheted rug that his grandmother had given to him a few years before her passing, that was now resting on the floor in front of the now broken TV. The warp and woofed image of a sun rising or setting, (he couldn’t tell which one), had been knitted in big thick yarns of gold, orange and yellow. His grandmother had done it from a kit, and he remembers her working on it, especially on its maroon earth and horizon. His grandmother had spent nearly her whole adult life working with her knits and crafts. When she would give blankets, and rugs, and embroidered winter hats away to the family, even as a little kid Rob would remember the joy that everyone garnered and earned from being around such a wholesome, creative, healthy, and happy, caring and giving woman. A woman that could only love, and didn’t know what it meant to hate.
“But a man needs to become a man.. he needs to learn to break free of womanly things, he needs to earn his way into adulthood. Girls don’t need to prove their worth to anyone. But a man does.” He said and his chest puffed a bit. “Yes, but look what this expedition to bear proof of my masculinity has left me. He rotated and took a gander at the pigsty that he called his apartment.
He went over to the fluffy and warm mat and picked it up. He turned it over on its back side, and felt the plastic graph frame that allowed his grandmother to run threads through. He liked the tough weave, the textured rough netting: crest following trough, mountain following valley, convex following concave, a planet followed by curved space. He felt gay all of a sudden.
“ Christ.. what kind of pussy am I? What kind of real man would take any serious interest in a thing like this?” He rested his hand into the fluff and comfort of the front side, his hand almost disappearing into a hair of yarn. He let the yarn filter and sprout out between his fingers and then he tightened them and pulled firmly but gently upwards, and one of the yarn loops came out with his hand. A strand of yellow. “Yellow is such a happy color” he noted with a slight smile. “ I must be ready for the happy farm” he caught himself and quickly changed course and concluded.
He tossed the mat back down on the ground in front of the TV, almost flipping it like a frisbee as thought to say, “I could care less about such trifles”. But as soon as he did this, he saw the sweet image of his grandmother’s face, and how loving and caring she was to him; and felt the pang of guilt and shame fill his mind and body, thinking of how hurt she would be to have seen him toss it so uncaringly. He picked it up again. Silence filled the air….
Then rob thought that he had read of many cultures in the Middle East, where men were master artisans of rug and quilt making. Had he been born in a different place of the world, he would probably feel no sense or shame in having admired what he called a “womanly” thing. He felt it again…. He wanted to know more about it. How does one make a rug like this? Is it easy?” And then the image of a man he saw in drag on the city bus knitting all by him or herself, “ jees they dont even know what they want to be called! What losers” he thought, but the image stuck. “It took guts” he reasoned again, to follow ones true calling, if indeed it is one’s true calling. He felt a combination of hatred and love for the image of that silly man dressed in woman’s clothing, knitting like Jonathan Winters would as Maude Frickert. Then he laughed at the idea of the comedian. “Oh was he cool. I loved Jonathan Winters, what a funny man.” Just then, he felt incredibly foolish, that he had spent the last 15 minutes climbing the walls about his TV breaking down and then getting all afraid that he might be gay because he enjoyed feeling and looking at a carpet his grandmother had made. “ Jees man have you become a real stiff of late. Lighten up dude.”
The next day Rob called in sick to work, and instead went down to the local mart to see if he could find an old stitch and knit kit like the ones his grandmother used to make. He walked the huge store and all of its aisles scanning for the section of the store it would most probably be in. “Home Decor”… not quite… “Electronics”. No.. that’s not it either… “ Menswear”…. “Woman wear”
“Office supplies” …. “Bed and Bath”…. “Bed and bath, that might be it.” He pondered. He started walking that way but also keeping an eye out for some employee that might be able to help. He could hardly see any employees, the only one that he saw was busy helping another customer. He went to the Bed and Bath section. But the only thing that he saw were already made mats and rugs. He wondered if they had an arts ad crafts section.
“ May I help you find something sir?” Interrupted a feminine voice from behind. Rob was 28 years old, and he still wasn’t quite used to being called sir. He didn’t feel like a “sir”. He wasn’t sure what he felt like, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t “sir”.
“Well yes you can, I am looking for a crochet kit, or one of those stitch and knit kits.” Rob answered.
“Ive personally never heard of a “stitch and knit kit”, but I can show you where the croquet kits are.”
“ Sure that will do. Thank you.” Rob politely replied.
“ Got a present you have to get for your mother?” The young woman asked, wearing a red shirt and kaki pants uniform.
Rob stumbled. “ Ah… yea, it’s for my mother. It is her birthday coming up.”
“ Oh that’s nice. I think we may even have a deal on them if I am not mistaken.” She mentioned. Rob felt relieved that she wasn’t going to pursue the issue about who it was for.
“ Here they are! 20% off… I was right.” She pointed to the box.
“ Oh that is great. Thank you so much for your help.” Rob returned. “Incidentally”, he added, “ Is it hard to make one of these?”
“ I don’t know, I’m not much into crochet or knitting or anything like that.” She answered. “ Your mom should be able to figure it out.. I think is pretty easy. My grandmother used to do it… it didn’t look very hard. I think there are instructions on the back.”
She began to look a bit irritated, and gave the body language that she had to move on to other customers.
“ Yes, thank you so much for you help.” Rob saw that it was time to rap up the conversation. The woman left around the corner and Rob proceeded to walk to the front counter to pay for it.
When Rob returned home, he threw his coat on the floor, and rather excitedly opened up the box with jittery and nervous hands. “There is nothing perverted or goofy about this,” he said to himself. “ Just think of yourself as one of those wizards from the Middle East, one of those master craftsman that make those gorgeous arabic patterns in cloth. Besides, you used to do model airplanes when you were a kid, and what is the difference in essence, between moving ones hand in and out of a weave and lifting a bottle of glue onto some plastic airplane part? It’s all nonsense in your head that is making you ashamed and hesitant.”
He pulled out the kit, put it on top of the kitchen table, found all of the loops and hooks and then the needle, and proceeded to knit. Three hours went by and he hardly even noticed it, he was lost in: action and creation, hook and bow, loop and weave, bob and thread. Rob got up from the table, and felt he needed a break. He went over to his TV to find out if it was working again or not. He turned the half metal and half plastic knob and it instantly went on to news. It was working! But Rob didn’t really feel good about it. And yet he was curious what the news was today.
“ A man is trapped inside a trailer on Hiway 64, traffic is backed up to hi way 7.”
“ The President of Iran swears revenge on the state of Israel.”
“ Man leaves a package with a bomb in it on the rollercoaster at Disneyland, threatens to detonate unless….”
“ A man’s body is found in a lake near Houston, Texas.”
“ The 49ers won a close game eking out a win.…”
“ Cat found walking on top of a telephone wire, more at ten.”
He felt the dread closing in… the heavy laden guilt and dread that was being fed into his brain, he didn’t know how to strain out the contents, and yet he was fascinated. He kept watching, and the light hearted joy in knitting earlier, fading quickly from his memory and the old self, from the night before was pulling him in.
“ Seriel Killer in Cleveland, more at 5.”
“ Jenny Thistle thought it was just a normal Sunday, little did she know she was being hunted by a cougar…”
“ Reports say that Pakistan is attempting to get Nuclear weaponry, more at 7”
He felt himself starting to crack, the split down the frame, the fissure, the expanding crevice gaining confidence in its descent. He felt the pull of the yarn and wool over at the kitchen table, but then could hardly hear it..
“ Airplane down in Ukraine, 150 dead.”
“ Were in the beginnings of a global Ice age… better build a storage box in the ground.. more at 9”
“ Are you fully insured for the future? How is your health plan? Does it cover all your future needs? Ready for retirement? Not so fast! Don’t do it unless you have “Safe Check”! ….”
“ Are drafts in your house draining your bank account dry? Try “Insudome”. For all your home heating needs.”
He peered over again at the knitting kit and basket, then back to the TV. He felt he was having a nervous breakdown; cracking fissures down the frame, each claiming a side. One part, the inner calling for peace and harmony that forgoes, abandons the outside world completely; the world of politics and life and death and money a crime and mayhem. He wanted to let go completely of agreed upon convention, where people can meet each other in agreed upon grids of fourth dimensional space and time. To lose the concrete world, and its sidewalks and news, and cocoon himself inside of a sewing kit and basket, knitting the chrysalis around him, snug in a rug of his own making, forsaking the outside world; like a moth of mythological universal truth with only his beady eyes peeking out with a couple of antenna.
He quickly ran up to the TV and turned it off. Oh the relief of silence. Silence that he had been dreading for so long, but that was not his enemy, but actually his closest of friends. “ Yes I hear you silence, I hear you … I love you..”
A Box Of Matches
Nature was sweeping in from the Northern Forests. The town was howling with winter wind, white glacial sheets spreading in dry ice across the streets and yards with cutting- knife gusts … all the townspeople were indoors keeping shelter from the brutality of 20 below zero temperatures. Like a staged theater, windows were lit and frosted in oranges and pinks, some with semi- drawn translucent curtains , and others with just wood frames in crosses of one or two. Occasionally a head could be seen, washing dishes or talking to someone in another room, mouths moving but not a sound heard. The innumerable stages and theater in a night, homes and apartments putting on shows for free; if one is gutsy enough to look without fear of being called a peeping tom, a pervert, a prowler, a voyeur of the night.
Roger Sawyer was in town this night, up in a window, playing his role for free. Downing already a half a bottle of whiskey, he was smoking in bed naked, having just had sex with a woman by the name of Norma West. Norma’s breasts were out in full bloom, and the two had the look like they had just discovered that they had been swindled out of some money by a street beggar, perhaps pick pocketed. There was an empty silence as Roger stared straight ahead into space and Norma was trying to re-configure in her mind where the relationship was going. Both had come to the conclusion that sex was a necessity like eating and perhaps bathing, but they hadn’t the intellect to be fully conscious of it.
“ This is going to sound really dumb, but do you love me?” Norma asked as Roger inhaled.
“ Ha!… your kidding right?” Roger coldly answered.
“ What do you mean? Do you mean it because it is a given that you do? Or because ….”
Roger appeared annoyed, and got up and walked over to the bathroom, but before he entered, he picked up his trousers off of the floor and checked the back pocket for his box of matches.
“ Do you have a lighter?” Roger asked.
“ No I don’t… if you need to light another cigarette you could start one off of the gas stove.” Norma added helpfully. Roger rolled his eyes, as is to say, “ what a stupid idea”.
“ No that’s ok, I was going to take a shit and have another smoke, but you know what? I will just head out for a bit and buy one at the corner store.” Roger started putting on his underwear and clothes.
“ Ok, when do you think you will be back?” Norma queried.
Roger rolled his eyes again without Norma seeing, “ It will probably be about twenty minutes or so..”
“ Well here, come back and give me a kiss before you go ok?” Norma pleaded playfully with pursed lips.
“ Well I just put my pants on.. “
“ You can still kiss me with your pants on… they don’t always have to be off to do so…” Norma chuckled teasingly.
Roger rolled his eyes again, but decided to walk over to Norma and give her a peck. He was experiencing the usual disinterest after coitus, he pecked her lips with his, and then pulled away to regain his independence.
“ Ill be back in twenty.” He said again.
“ Ok” Norma replied hesitantly.
Roger closed Norma’s door behind him, and went down the hallway of the apartment and exited into the ruthless wind. He walked across the parking lot that had jet streams of blustering snow flowing and he began to angle towards the direction of the corner store. His hands were already beginning to get cold, and so he put his hands in his jacket pocket, and just as he did, he felt a pack of matches in one of them. He pulled it out, opened it, noticed that it had one match left, held it in one hand,( that was already turning red and numbing), and reached in his pants pocket for his cigarettes with his other. Flipping open the cigarette pack top, he put one to is freezing lips, smelled the first sniff of sweet unlit tobacco, cupped his two hands together around the pack, struck it and tried to light his smoke. The wind quickly blew it out.
“ Dammit!” Roger swore. Putting his pack of cigarettes back in his pants pocket, he tossed the now empty pack of matches into the snow. As Roger continued to angle towards the center of the village, he felt his body flood with a flow of blood being lost into his feet, and he swayed to a side, feeling the effects of his heavy drinking. He no longer knew if he was drunk or sober anymore, for he needed so much to drink now just to feel normal. But the drag on his system was even evident to him. As Roger rounded a corner, in a town almost completely empty, he bumped into a woman that he had been with the week before, who he hadn’t called back. Feeling that he must be in some kind of joke, “ what the hell are the chances that she of all people would be the one person I run into in a night like this?” He asked himself. The woman seemed emotional, hurried and distressed, and yet, “ who wouldn’t be out in a night like this?” Roger thought.
Roger tried to pretend that he hadn’t seen her, but it was too late, their eyes had locked.
“ Christine… what on earth are you doing out here?” Roger asked sheepishly.
Christine, with her winter coat blowing in the howling wind, distraught returned, “ Oh.. I … I had to get a prescription at the drug store.”
“ Doesn’t it suck out here? It’s so fucking cold.” Roger huddled in his coat, raising his shoulders.
“ Why haven’t you called me?” Christine asked bluntly.
Roger feeling off balance already, replied “ oh… I … I have had a busy week…” he began nervously searching his pockets, pretending like he had lost something.
“ You don’t have a job.. how busy can you be?”
Roger searched his mind trying to find a good answer, “my brother is in town, we have been working on his car.” The wind picked up in even bigger blasts of bluster, Roger, glad that it was, seeing an opportunity to extricate himself, said.. “ oh… it is just torture out here… can I talk to you later? I’ll give you a call in a couple days I promise, if I am out here much longer Im’ going to freeze to death!” Roger felt his lips numbing as he said this, which made him feel less guilty, like he was indeed the victim of something, and it wasn’t that he was a slithering grease ball, ( although he didn’t really care if he was seen that way, but the last vestiges of social graces were hanging onto him by a frozen thread, and he thought for a moment he maybe at least try)
Christine didn’t even bother to reply and kept on walking in the hard to hear anything but the furious flurrying weather. Roger, glad she was out of his way, hustled ahead to get up close to a brick building to block the cold. “ Fucking bitch” he muttered. Meandering his way through the center of town, Roger saw the pink and blue neon signs of the corner store up ahead and picked up his pace. Entering into the store the bells rung that were hung above to indicate to the clerk that there was a customer.
“ Holy shit is it cold out there!” Roger brushed off the cold and stomped his feet on the black rubber mat to get rid of the snow on his boots.
“ -22 degrees..” Confirmed the clerk. “What brings you in? What can I get ya?”
“ Oh.. um.. why don’t you give me a pack of Marlboros and a lighter.” Roger said still trying to find his balance. The clerk picked out the merchandise from behind his station, and put them on the counter in front of Roger.
“ That’ll be $12.73.” The clerk announced. Roger fumbled through his winter coat for his wallet, pulled it out and gave the man a $20.00 bill. The clerk dashed it with a counterfeit marker, held it up the the light, and proceeded to give Roger $7.27 in change. Roger held out his hand and asked, “ just curious, what do you guys do if the bill I give you turns out a fake?”
“ I take it and put it under my drawer to give to my boss.” The man said with wisps of hair coming up and off of his shining head.
“ Do I get a new 20? Or…”
“ No… ordered by law, we are supposed to apprehend it immediately.” The clerk said slightly defensively.
“ Well shit… that’s unfair. So I get gypped out of 20 bucks even if I am not the one counterfeiting?” Roger said with his parochial accent appearing more pronounced.
“ Yep… but lucky for you, yours was valid.” The older man clarified.
“ Well alright, hasn’t happened to me yet… so.. “ Roger left the shop without saying goodbye.
“ Take care! Stay warm!” The clerk hollered as Roger disappeared out the door into a blast of cold.
Roger returned down the exact same path through the snow back to Nora’s apartment, occasionally trying to match step for step his footprints from before. Making it to the front door of the apartment complex, Roger dialed his cell phone to Nora for the door to be opened. His hands had turned red again and swollen in the cold.
“ its Roger.. I am back.”
“ Oh… you want me to let you in?”
“ yea.. that would be nice.” Roger said sarcastically.
“BZZZZZZZZZZZ” the door buzzed and Roger entered and walked down to the right door number.
“ Its fucking freezing as hell out there!” Roger said, coming in, relying on the weather again.
“ Well they say that schools are going to be cancelled tomorrow because it is so cold.” Nora said.
“ Who the fuck cares about the schools? All I care about is my freezing ass.”
Nora believed him, “ Did you get a lighter?”
“ yea. Is there any more whiskey left in that bottle?” He put forth. “ why don’t you and I finish that off”, he said pointing to the bottle, “and then go another round…” pointing to the bed. “ how bout it?” He said with a cheshire grin.
Nora was, what many psychologists would term, your classic case of a codependent. Her father had molested her when she was a child, and all of her hatred and shame she had towards him, which made her feel evil and hence a bad person, she suppressed. She wanted to see only the good in others, and so acting like she still wasn’t thinking about the question she had posited earlier to Roger before he left for the store, she said, “ok.”
They both drank with their bare lips from the bottle, taking alternating swigs until it was all gone, Roger emptying the last drops.
Nora opened up her robe and got into bed, while Roger took his clothes off. As Roger stood up after just taking off his shoes, he asked Nora if she had any condoms. Their mouths moved back and forth, in a counteracting discussion. Lost in time, lost in a performance, and an act on the stage of their lives, like thousands of others in town, Roger and Nora were interrupted violently when the window shattered and a frozen clump of black ice, the size of a baseball, rolled around like a toxic frozen turd onto the carpet.
“ You fucking asshole!” Shouted a voice through the now opened window. “ You fucking pig!”
Roger ran over with his bare feet towards the shards of glass.. noticing that he couldn’t go forward to look out the window, he returned to his shoes, putting them on feverishly not bothering to tie them. After putting them on, he went back towards the window standing on jigsaw glass scattered crystals. Roger had a hunch who it might be, but he simulated again the look of wonder and innocent bewilderment. He peered out.
“ Who’s there? What the hell… who the hell!”
“ You know who it is you fucker! Off with another bitch is that it?”
“ Who is it Roger?” Nora asked pulling the covers over her bare skin because cold air was rushing in with a look of shock on her face.
“ oh fuck… its just this… “
“ What’s the bitches name your with now Roger? Roger’s a whore! Rogers’s a whore! Listen every body! Roger Sawyer is a whore!!!”
“ Fuck! Shut her up! The apartment manager is going to call, and that is the last thing I need right now is a warning from him! I already have…” Nora said animatedly from the bed, being cut off…
“ Well she has already broken the fucking glass.. he is going to find out anyway… “ Roger fired back to Nora emotionally.
“ No.. maybe I can..”
“ Roger is a whore! Roger Sawyer is a whore! Roger Sawyer is a creep and a whore! He is a worthless piece of shit who can’t even get a job! I fucked Roger! I fucked Roger ten times last week! I fucked Roger Sawyer!”
Nora looked confused and slightly upset.
“ Don’t listen to the bitch… its some fucking thing that I met last week at a bar.. nothing happened.. but..” Roger stuttered.
“ Bring her to the window! I want to see the slut you are with! Bring her to the window, or tell her I will keep yelling until the cops come! Listen bitch! Whatever your name is in there! He is using both of us! He is trash!”
Neither women could understand, nor even bothered to understand why they were hot for Roger. He was a loser, unemployed, a slob, a drunkard. Maybe it was the desolation outside, the indifference of the culture, the lonely American life that demanded everyone be happy or at least appear to be, to be kings and queens of their own independence, islands unto themselves. These women were not intellectuals, so they had no hint of the vocabulary to be able to express why they were so driven to have a loser like Roger Sawyer. But of course it was what kept everyone everywhere tortured and desperate in their own very pronounced or unpronounced ways, the howling empty universe outside. Roger was kind of a man’s man, women of a certain class were drawn to his piggishness and laziness.
“ Christine! You need to get the hell out of here!”
“ Bring her to the window or I will keep screaming!”
“Can you come over to the window?” Roger asked Nora.
“ I’ll have to put my robe and slippers on first.” Nora replied still distraught.
“ She will be here in a second!” Roger called out. “ These fucking women..” Roger muttered under his breath. Nora came with her robe and slippers.
“ Yes? What is it?! Aren’t you freezing out there?” Nora called out.
“ Women like us… we should unite against creeps like Roger!”
“ Well…” Nora said unsure.
“ Women like us are used and abused by losers like Roger.. tell him to leave your apartment now!” Christine yelled.
“Roger I think you should leave.. she is right..” Nora exclaimed. “ Look at me.. did you really screw around with her?”
Roger looked away.
“ Oh she is right, whatever her name is out there.. she is right… your a fucking pig!” And the pent up anger she had kept in check over so many years burst to the surface. She went to her kitchen and grabbed a knife, and shook it in the air in front of Roger… “ get the fuck out of my apartment you pig!” Noras fangs were showing and spit was flying from her teeth and lower lip.
“ Holy shit! These fucking cunts… what the hell has happened to you?” Roger said to Nora amazed that this little kitten he had just known for less than a week had now turned into a complete psychopath.
Roger quickly gathered his things as Nora flashed the dagger in the air.
“ That a way bitch! Teach him a lesson!” Christine called from the frigid cold outside.
Roger left Noras apartment in terror, jogged down the hallway and to the outside door. He saw Christine ahead near an enormous snow bank as a huge puff of condensation billowed out from his face.
“ Stay away from me you creep!” Christine yelled at him.
“ Don’t worry cunt, I wouldn’t come near a bitch like you with a ten foot pole. Why the hell don’t you stay away from me! What the hell are you doing? Stalking me? I thought it was kind of a coincidence that I would stumble into you around the corner over there earlier.” Roger yelled and kept walking back towards the center of town taking the same footpath, now with two becoming three sets of his feet.
“ Why don’t you get a job and stop ruining women’s lives you pig!” Christine followed and hounded him. She quickly darted away from him all of a sudden and went to a car and started to open it with her key. Roger felt the trigger instinct, like an animal that sees running prey, to chase after her, but he held his ground and continued walking away.
Everyone knows that life is a game of chance. The bus that hit Bill, but just missed Sam, the good gene pool that got all sucked up into Lucinda and her luscious lips, but passed on Janet, the haphazard collection of people heading off to the Gulags by train, guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the list is endless. Meet Tuck Tyler, craps player supreme.
Every Saturday, Tuck goes down to Mission Lake Casino, he takes a city bus with a flask of whiskey tucked inside his inner coat pocket. Finding ways to get away from his wife, and finding ways to relieve the stress of the work week, Tuck seeks fantasy and escape in the slot machined bells and whistles and bubbled glass colors and gambling tables landscape. Jingling bells, spell-bound men and women sitting for Pavlovian hours on end with blank faces mesmerized by jack pot chance and numbers. The sounds of draining consciousness and dropping coins, the pull of a lever, the curious absence of much conversation or human banter. Gambling is a drug, an eyeball rat maze with cocaine hit rewards. The overweight with posture humped, listening to pumping songs of hope and victory , videos of half nude muscular men, and bikini women with perfect bodies, games and graphics for the juvenile, a chance to be ten again. Sirens crying out to Odysseus, most can’t resist the call, most just say, “ forget about what I said before, just cut the ropes guys, I can’t take it! I changed my mind!” A freudian pinball machine wonderland with a tint of funeral home, a chance to feel like a star if you can’t be in real life. Lady Luck, is shaking with joy after winning $18,000; while Bad Luck Brad is walking out depressed.
Tuck likes to go with his best bud Baker and tonight is no different. When they arrive Baker prefers to play black jack and the slot machines while Tuck is pure craps. Once they enter, the separation is fairly quick, and the spell and the gaze soon glosses over their eyes like vaseline over film lenses. A fog, a distancing, a separation from pure fact into pure fiction. Anything but reality… anything… anything but reality.
“ Ill meet you here up front in 2 hours ok?” Tuck says already with vision varnished, peering over Bakers head and on…
“ Yep.. see you at 8:30 sharp.” Baker replies noticing already the vacant stare in his friend.
Tuck walks back towards his favorite table, passes by quickly up some steps and goes to the bathroom in the corner near by and takes a hit from his flask. Returns to the table. The “on” puck was on. So he had to wait. When the puck went to “off”, Tuck laid his money on the table in exchange for some chips, $60. Tuck put $20 on the pass line. The dealer pushed the dice out towards him with a cane. Tuck rolled two of them against the wall. “3”. He lost his money. He rolled again. Another “3”. It was going to be a long night, he tried not to think it.. but the thought flashed before his mind like a language flash card.
The one hundred and twenty minutes went by like they were ten. Tuck lifted his head and narrowed his eyes into the depths of this den of magic and theft. He saw Baker’s baby blue apertures swirling in a kaleidoscope of pancaked suckers that were corkscrewing into psychedelic translucent pop- tart visions. In short, Baker was hypnotized and wandering, hit hard and dazed in the maze of a cocaine freudian’s need for risk and reward. Their eyes locked, and Bakers eyes came into focus. Recognizing Tuck, he began walking like a sleepwalker towards him through the crowd of hushed hypnotics; numbed dumb into clumsy oafs with orangutan arms pulling on crowbar switches.
“ How’d you do?” Baker asked pulling up his slipping jeans.
“ I lost it all.”
“ bad night huh? Got anything left in your flask? Wanna go over to the bar and grab a Jack and coke?” Baker looked at Tuck’s face this time with more scrutiny. “ You don’t look good man, are you ok?”
“ I mean I lost it all.” Tuck was as pale as damp freshly powdered pizza dough.
“ how much?”
“ My house, my car, my life…”
“ What are you talking about? Your kidding right?”
“ I wish I was.” Tuck was in a trance of a different kind. Before it was the heavy pleasurable fog of hedonism, now it was a trembling trance of jagged shock and disbelief. Tears were mounting in the moist crevices of his eyelids; he stared of into the distance. Baker, now being completely awake, went up to Tuck and grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him,
“ Tell me your kidding!”
Tuck shook his head slowly as if to say, “ I can’t believe it either, I wish I were.”
Baker proceeded to bring Tuck over by the shoulders to a place of rest, to some brown wooden leather boxed benches that were built into the wall of the Casino. They sat down.
“ I care about you Tuck. We have been through much together. I love you like a brother. We haven’t always seen eye to eye on everything, and that is why I love you though. Sometimes I have played up to your down, and down to your up. You usually have supported me more than I you, so now is my chance to help you out bro. But tell me that you are kidding.”
“ I’m not. I bet the mortgage on the house, the car.”
“ how much did you lose?” Queried Baker.
“ $198,250 something. I just couldn’t stop. I started out awful, I lost 20 bucks here, 20 bucks there. But then I had an incredible upturn of events, and can you fucking believe,” Tuck turned to Baker. “ I was ahead 250 grand. Had I just stopped there, had I just stopped there..” Tuck put his head down into his lap and shook his head in psychic agony. Baker put his hand on Tuck’s back and patted it with solace.
“ What the fuck is Sarah going to say when she finds out?” Tuck rotated his red head up while still hunched over in shame.
“ I don’t know bro. I don’t know. She is going to fucking kill you if I know her at all.”
“ It all came down to one fucking tumble of one dice. I rolled a 6 and a 5, had it gone another 6 I would be walking away right now with nearly a half a million. I just couldn’t stop. The more the risk the more I felt alive. There was this really hot woman at the end of that table that I was trying to impress like an idiot.” He kept shaking his red face in his hands in his lap. “ I feel like such a loser and a failure. Such a moral degenerate. I should fucking go kill myself!” This was the first time that Tuck was animated all evening.
“ Dude, fucking mellow out. Your not going to be killing yourself. Don’t be stupid. There are ways out of this. You can declare bankruptcy and..” Baker was at a loss of what more to say.
Tuck finally lifted his torso up and rested his back against the wall. Flushed and ill, they both looked at ahead at the conversation- less venue, the bewitched population all either gripping switches on slot machines or gripping their seats at the card and craps tables. They both felt seduced and used. Like after a massive orgasm, what once appeared so enticing a second before, like a buffet of comfort foods when one is famished, now appeared like a smelly fish when one has an achingly full stomach. They saw themselves in the drones that were before them. Lost souls, with false goals, frightened by the reality outside, herded into a colorful circus of chance and luck, a place which everyone seems to forget, is rigged to win in the end. Tuck was not a philosophical man, but the flavor of the idea crossed the cross beams of his attic mind, but he never fully tasted it, but if the tang could have been savored into speech, it would have said, “ Life is a casino, where the house always wins in the end”.
“Let’s get the hell out of this place.. ok Tuck?” Baker rose to his feet in anxiety.
“ Yes. Let’s do that.”
“ The next bus is coming in ten minutes, I think we can make it over there in time, it picks people up on the other side of the parking lot. We had better hurry though, it is a maze getting over there.”
They both began to jog towards the exit, as they were about to leave, one of the security men or managers, said, “ Thanks for coming guys, please come again! Hope you had a good time.” Apparently he was a bad reader of faces. They opened the doors and broke out into the fresh air, Tuck was overcome with emotion as he gazed into the open expanse of a golden prairie, and began to cry.
“ Dude, don’t .. don’t. Not now. Hold it in until we get on the bus.” Baker was able to pull Tuck together by his triangular arm, and like a chain hooked to chain he pulled him along in their journey to catch the next city bus. As they approached the bus, and got on, walking up the steep steps with Baker leading the way to confront the driver, Baker paid his fare, while Tuck still fumbled in his pants pocket realizing he hadn’t the money. Adding insult to injury, and salt to a gashing wound, Tuck peered feeble, and guiltily said to Baker, “ I don’t have it.” The silence that ensued, said in so many unuttered words, “ Can you pay it for me?” Baker feeling Tuck’s pain and embarrassment, quickly covered him with the added fare.
When they returned to the city, Tuck told his wife, Sarah, what he had done, and she told him to leave the home immediately or else she would call the police. She filed for divorce, and having no children, Tuck was on his own. Tuck was now going to experience first hand, what it meant to be homeless. He had always wondered, as he passed them everywhere on nearly every corner and in nearly every alley; holding up their cardboard box signs: “ Anything helps, Vietnam vet”., “ Why lie? I need a beer” , Or, “ pregnant, the guy left to California.” Luckily it was going to be another few months before the winter cold. He was going to have to get used to his new life. Baker’s wife would have nothing of it, the idea of Tuck sleeping in their basement. And Tuck demanded any way that he wanted to pay for his sin, by learning the rough life of a transient.
Tuck’s first choice was to head on down to the Salvation Army shelter, where he was given a cot to sleep on per night for the price of just one dollar. He stayed there for about a week, and then realizing that he was really going to need it during the winter months, he decided to save his money till then, and found a bridge to sleep under until the first snow. At first he was horrified of what was to become of him, but then gradually, fear turned into creativity. He started thinking of ways that he could brave the elements. He went to a parking lot behind a department store, and found a huge cardboard box that he could fold up into a small house. The thing must have been 5x5 feet, and 5 feet tall. He dragged it out of the bin, towards an underpass.
“ This should protect me against the blustery fall winds.” He said to himself. Then he thought of flame, how to tame it and have one safely near his box. On one of his walks he dropped into a Thai restaurant, grabbed a pack of matches that they had on a front counter, and dashed out the door. Returning to his box under the bridge, he began collecting branches and twigs and breaking them down into finer parts so that they would burn easier. He went over to a garbage can, and found a whole load of newspaper and unwanted ads. While over there, he saw a quilt that must have been used by another homeless person, and, braving it, grabbed it. He wanted to accustom himself, to not pull away and shun the ugly, the dirty; after all, he was going to have to whether he liked it or not. “It’s absurd”, Tuck thought, “ I have this cell phone.” Baker had insisted on getting him a cheap one with a simple plan, so that he could walk the fine line between allowing Tuck his freedom, and also satisfying his own concern to know where he was. Baker would call here and there, now and then.
“Ring- ring”, Tuck threw the quilt inside of the cardboard.
“ Yea .. hey.” Tuck answered.
“ Are you sure that you want to be doing this bro?”
“ No doubt in my mind.” Tuck countered. “ I was actually a little afraid at first, but now, to be honest, I kind of enjoy it. You realize how much society is run and based on fear, fear that upholds the machinery in its frantic pace, but once you finally let go, and embrace the fear, your almost buoyed by an invisible joy, there is this great relief, like a boy who discovers that there are no monsters under his bed, or that a stick is not a snake, but a stick.”
“ Whoa man, you sound spiritual or something. How long do you plan to go on with this insanity? You don’t have to prove anything Tuck.”
“ No.. yes I do. I have to cleanse myself of my sins. It wasn’t just the sin of gambling, I was a drinker and a dink. I deserved what I got. I want to try and turn all of my mistakes around, to somehow turn them into positives. Maybe I will do social work eventually for the homeless, or for Alcoholics Anonymous. Gotta carry my cross Baker, and carry it well.”
“ Well you were always a hero to me. Like I say, you don’t have to prove anything. Just wanted to check in and see how you are doing. Call me if you get into any trouble though, would you promise me that?”
“ I will Baker. I will. Better get going, I am trying to make my bed for the night.”
“ Where are you? Do you mind if I ask?”
“ I’m under the hi way 61 bridge.”
“ Shit man, that is kind of a bad part of town. Are you sure that you want to be there?”
“ Its mainly fear Baker, the reality is it isn’t as bad as everyone says it is.”
“ Ok man, take care of yourself, do you mind if I call you in a couple days just to see how you are doing?”
“ No problem. Look forwards to hearing from you.”
“ Luv ya bro…”
“ Love you too man. Bye.” Tuck hung up feeling even better, now that he had talked to his good friend. One thing that Tuck was noticing about homelessness, is that it concentrates ones concerns into a very dense here and now. Abstract notions about ‘what do I want to do? Or be’, or whether the wife will be upset next week when I decide to go to the casino on both Friday and Saturday nights. Trivialities are stripped down, and all that is left is a thin essence of being. A rock bed of foundation, upon which one can fall no further.
Been on the trails for three days straight; hardly slept a wink. I can barely keep my head up as my drooping head bounces off my shoulders. It’s cold as all hell. Must be ten below zero, added the wind chill, easily 25 below. Even though I am drowsy, I still am able to keep an ice- cubed eyelid open on the path, making sure I don’t get led astray. If I fall asleep I would surely die a frozen death. Ive heard many stories where men getting lulled into sweet deliriums by the cold never to be seen alive again. But I am hot- blooded and strong and in my manly prime. I love the woods. I am bundled in my thick deer skin jacket that no wind can break. My leather wide brimmed -hat keeps my head warm, I have an old wool shirt wrapped around my face and ears. The condensation from my breath collects in the material, and then drips, and I can see the drops freeze before they hit the snow below.
Started out in Waterville, Maine. Now I figure I must be somewhere in the Prairies of North Dakota. On my way to Lewistown, Montana; Iv’e heard of great opportunities to start a new life out there. The word is land is cheap, people are kind, jobs are plenty in the forestry industry. Ran in to some trouble back in Waterville. Not sure I want to go into it too deep. Wouldn’t mind finding a nice lady out in Montana, settle down and maybe have a couple kids. I love the rhythm and sound of pounding hoof and trot and soft thump of snow from riding Caroline, my trusty mare. If my face gets too cold I press my face against the top of her neck and mane, to capture her body heat. Sometimes my behind hurts real bad, and I will stop for a bit, get off of Caroline, hitch her to a tree, and stretch my body to get the fluids coursing through my body like sap in a maple. Inside the pouches of my saddle bag, I have a pot to heat some snow on a fire, I have my strike- a -light iron and flint, I have a bag of walnuts and roasted, cinnamon - softened acorns and chestnuts, many long strips of dehydrated meats. When I have to relieve waste, I pull dried oak leaves down from the branches in the woods and lean up against a tree with my bare rump resting on the bark.
I’m continuing down the rolling snowy paths made by other pioneers months before me travailed. Off in the distance I see the future folding and moving away around a hidden pass, and the mystery and snow deepens. The wonder of what is ahead on the unknown course I tread fills my head with alertness, but then I fade again. It’s mid- day and the branches are brown and white and twisted in enigmatic knots. Balsam firs, spruce, and stately white-pine guide me in my winding journey through tumbling hills and powdered banks and bluffs and half frozen creeks and riverbeds. But I am tired and worn from my travels and very hungry. I am as thin as the strips of meat in my saddle bag. Lean and ethereal in spirit. As I ride to the top of a knoll, I look down the foothills and see what appears to be a mustard - yellow cabin. A decorated shed of sorts, with fringes, like on a ladies blouse along its edges. Ornate, quaint, with a brick- chimney, and two benches on its outside porch, a stone and rock base, and a charming oak gracefully framing it with character; I’m awakened out of my half - slumber and perked into possibilities that jangle and untangle my mind.
“ Perhaps I can rest for the night.” I say out loud into the frosted air. “If it has a chimney it must have a fireplace, and I will be able to cook something.” But then I catch myself, “ Someone maybe lives there friend. You are probably going to have to ask to sleep on a bed for the night, or to cook a meal.” But then on the other hand I had heard from the tales of yore that a lone empty cabin had been spotted here and there along the Great Western Trail and that it was not that uncommon. I put my foot in a spur hold, and got down off of the saddle. I rope her bridle around a hackberry, grab a few walnuts out of the saddlebag, pop them into my mouth, hearing the loud crunch in my mouth amplified by the cold; I pluck the ice off of my lashes, and begin to walk towards the front door of the cabin. I listen intently for any noises, but hear nothing. I call out, “ Anyone hear for a lonesome traveller to stay a night or two or make a meal?!” My numbed words fumbled out of my frozen lips. I heard nothing in response. I go up to the door, pull open the screen, hearing the iron corkscrew sound of the spring echo off of the wooden floor board of the porch, and knocked on the main panel. I pulled my hand out of my buffalo gloves and felt the hard rattle on the wood and knuckles. The wind was blowing through the channels of the trunks in the mainly Oak and Walnut groves, as I stood waiting for a reply. It’s a beautiful sound, a strange mix of joy and sadness; it silences an already silent -mind even further into its depths, but it also, when one reaches the ear further into its empty barrel, it whispers that wordless reminder, that ‘all things must pass”. No response. I try open the door but it is locked. I walk over to the window, and peak inside with my nose flattened against the gelid glass. There are curtains that block my full view. I rap on the pane and see it loosely move and clatter in its frame. The thought crosses, “maybe I can remove the sheet of glass without breaking it.”
Coming to the conclusion that the cabin is abandoned, I start thinking of the best ways to break in without vandalizing it as much as possible; one, out of respect for the owner, and two, so as to be able to stay as warm as possible over the evening. I move back to the door again and try to push it open with my whole body pressing and leaning in multiple waves of pressure and release. It’s not budging; it’s a solid make and bolted shut. I think of grabbing the iron piece for making fire and using it to pry open the door, but then gain my sense, and say outloud to the bellowing gusts, “ Don’t be an idiot, if you break that thing your as good as dead.”
I hear my boot steps clomp over the hollow floor as I amble back to the window again. My fingers are freezing, so I put them back into my buffalo gloves. Feeling the pressure mount from the frigid blustering bellows on my back and thighs, I decide to punch the window open with my buffalo gloved fist, and figure out a way later to fill the gap perhaps with a cloth or the curtain. I drive my pack of fives until they arrive on the other side of the pane; making sure not to cut a wrist in my attempt to pull my hand out, I very carefully maneuver it around the shards of jagged crystals. But then I realize that what I am doing is absurd. “How am I going to get into the cabin through just a little pushed hole in the glass?” I think. I must have been thinking that I could reach a hand around to open the door, but the door is way too far over for that. So I decide to take out the remaining shards from the crevices in the cracks of the frame. Seeing wind beginning to blow through the curtains and rod, I increase my intensity.
After I get all of the pieces out, I reach a leg over the ledge, and hear my heavy boot meet the floor below; it had a more muffled and solid sound than outside. I bent my head down and under the top frame, fit my whole body through like my mother used to loop a thread and needle, and entered. As I peer over at the fireplace, I see a raccoon peering its head upside down from the chimney sweep, I hear icicles fall down from the eaves outside and break into glass, and then hearing the crash, the little bandit shimmies up the stack and I hear him scramble across the roof and see him jump into a snow mound and get lost in a puff of white tunneling. Feeling like a fool, I say once more, “ Is there anybody home?” The low beamed ceiling carried my voice, fully amplifying the room, and my eyes follow its sound, until they are caught to the attention by a small row of logs lined up against the wall.
I decide to make a fire. I go to the front door, unbolt an old, gold and rusty switch, and saunter to Caroline feeling victorious. I reach into the saddle bag, grab my flint and iron, give Caroline a couple of roasted chestnuts, walk over to a paper birch, rip several sheets off of its trunk, and return with hands full. I put a few roles of paper birch under a well structured architecture of strategically placed logs that successfully exploits the balance between the potential log to flame to log transfer, and the needed aeration under and around the wood. I love making a fire. I strike the iron and flint and chaff the metal sparks onto the birch to see the first smoldering of flame. The roasting smoke, where if it had spoke, would say, “ Ah yes. Haven’t done this for a while, but I am familiar with the play and pattern of form, and now I will swarm and a warm up little more, because that is what smokes like me do.” Perhaps the cold was getting to me. I held the palms of my hands up to the growing flame, and smelled the wonderful scent of pinewood and cedar. I immediate think of water, some for myself and for some for Caroline. I go outside and get my pan, and fill it to the brim with snow. In order to get much water from snow, you maybe surprised how much you need to get. I try to pack it in the pan as tight as possible. I went back and forth to the same snow bank 20 times or more. I see a bucket near the window sill and fill it. I bring the pale over to Caroline, the steam of the water rising, and put it up to her mouth. Her big tongue and lips collect all the water in a few seconds. I swill the remaining amount and return to the cabin for another round for myself this time. But first I remember to take a quilt that is hanging on a rail and I bunch it up and fill the gaping empty window. “ Ah this is what its all about” I say outloud. “ Learning to survive the elements; forcing one to come up with creative solutions. As they say, ‘ necessity is the mother of invention.’”
The sun is falling, and the sky is becoming a mixture of dark -blues, purples, oranges, reds and yellow. There was a back room that I had yet to explore. I assume that it is a bedroom of sorts, but for now I was more concerned about getting some liquid and fuel into myself and Caroline. I brought the whole saddle bag in and began roasting some of the strips of jerky. The room was getting warm and the rapid flame had escalated into a full formed licking with ample tongue. I found another quilt, warmed it near the fire, and hung it around Carolines back and shoulders outside, (poor girl, she was going to need it; for at night temperatures were sure to drop another 15 degrees). I decided to build a huge protective dug out of snow near her so that when she really wanted to rest, she could lie down with some degree of comfort against the brutal wind. Something was bothering me about that room that I had yet to enter. I thought it was going to be my sleeping quarters for the night, but the fact that I hadn’t opened it yet was portentous I felt. I re-entered the cabin again, hearing the wire and spring ring in that corkscrew iron way, and I peered at the brass handled door knob on the back room door. It glistened in orange around its spherical edges from the fireplace flame ten feet away. I listened to he fire logs snap, crackle and pop in expanding heated breaks in their cores; and then the whistling sound from a slightly wet log. That made my mind think that perhaps those logs hadn’t been in here for that long of a period; they must have been outside sometime in the fairly recent past. The fire kept whistling like a tea pot and then snapped and popped again and I saw a spark fly out onto the floor, but it wasn’t anything dangerous, it quickly died out like a fading -star. I put my hand around the rim of the brass knob, its loosely screwed on. I turn it slowly, and at the last second I feel the screw grip the latch, and feel it coming off of the side wood frame. As I open it, of course it creaks and gives me the shivers down to the base of my spine. As it swings open all of the way, I see a dead man with gray hair staring straight ahead towards me, he is frozen in white and milliseconds later , so am I. I almost let out a scream, but then remembered that I am a man, and that men don’t scream. This shell of a body, where a spirit once roamed; this shuffled mortal coil, this large flake of snake skin that sat like a cornflake in bed, was once a man, but now he was nowhere to be found. I close the door.
I decide to get the hell out of there. I put water on the fire, put the last few strips of meat in the saddle bag, grab my pan, iron and flint, and retreat. Death is something I run away from. It is the last thing others have to do, but not me; I don’t do it. I know deep in my soul that someday I will have to face it, and that all it takes is a diagnoses of a certain kind of tumor, and the fate my Uncle John faced twenty years earlier will soon be mine. But I am not ready for it; I don’t know many men who are. No healthy man truly thinks that he is going to die nor looks it squarely in the eye. It remains largely a horrible idea. A grim specter looming over head, a concept; a heinous piece of school work that is put off to a later date. But to really face it, and know that death will be here as surely as one has eyes to see, a nose to hear, and it will be “now” when it comes… and all of ones unfulfilled hopes and dreams will go unrealized; you may have been just about to figure things out, when you got the news that it is going to be all over soon. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday in a very real “now” it was going to have to be confronted entirely alone, no other men’s notions on the matter were going to help. For death truly is the last frontier; which every man must travel on his own without another’s compass. All that is ersatz in him, is burnt away, and the flame of his life’s events is run before his eyes, all the good and bad that he has done, and the dimly lit glowing coals of the real man are revealed. Popping and whistling embers and memories hiss… all men are conquered, utterly destroyed. No matter how great or small he was in life, all men are ultimately losers.
“ Have days left in me of riding; I am actually not that tired.” I say out-loud as I don’t even bother to lock the door behind me. I untie Caroline and in the middle of the night, with the moon and stars as my guide, I resume my journey. As I ride with extreme alertness, I begin to wonder what may have happened to the man. Had he maybe had a heart-attack? ‘Life is for the living’ as they say. Did he just die of old age? Suddenly thinking on it, many of the horrible deeds I had done in my life were beginning to rise in the theater of my mind, all of the advancements I had made rationalizing that man must live and move ahead. All of the curt and rude remarks and heartless calloused statements I had uttered about others demises and poor fates. But I had to move on right? Who has time for compassion? I feel it is unfair. This living business. Everyone is drowning in a shipwreck; pulling and gripping at one another as rafts and life preservers. Life seems to ask of us that we simultaneously become strong rafts filled with airy pride and self -sustaining support, but also that we allow others to rest on us and pull us down. What good is one if they are not able to buoy in the water, but what good is a man if he only buoys himself? We are asked to uplift and be available to be pulled down simultaneously, and timing is everything. I never want to think of that dead man in that bedroom ever again.. I just want to get lost in the starry night of woodland paths and listen to the wind whisper to me using the trees as its tongue. I don’t want to die.
CELEBRATE THE SEASON OPENER! THE 55TH ANNIVERSARY OF:
REILLY’S SHINING CIRCUS ON THE HILL! DON’T BE TARTY! IT’S A REGULAR OLD PARTY!
*****sponsored in part, by Ollies Ominous Omni-Theater
Reilly’s Shining Circus has been in the running now for 55 years; serving up the community of Tanglen a bowl of laughs for more than half a century. Showtime is to begin at 7: 30 sharp. Here are the list of events:
7: 30: An introduction to the show by the Great Bald Conductor, Buffalo Brimstone, followed by..
7:44: The Henry and Henrietta’s human cannonball act. ( watch Henrietta catch a bouquet of roses in her mouth mid -flight)
****tonight with special guest Travis the Tramp and his Traveling Trampoline
7: 55: Pauli and Porky the Human Pogo Sticks goes through the Human pyramid
8: 06: Terry and Tiffany’s Trumpeting Trapeze City in the Tropospheric Sky of Triumph. You won’t believe your eyes!
8: 30: Rob the Riddling Tight -Rope Walker (give him a word to riddle and fiddle on, so long as he’s on a high- wire in his long John’s)
8:45: Oscar Humphrey the Human Octopus and Escape Artist Extraordinaire ( put him in a glass bucket, under lock and key, see him shape- shift until he if free)
9:05: Benjamin the Brown Bear on his Universe and Unicycle ( watch him go up a maze of boards to the top of the tent to meet his Lord)
9: 30: Billy the Clown blows his horn, because he is so sad and forlorn, but the Barber’s of Ballet, save his day along with Sargeant Stanley on his Tilting Stilts.
9: 43: The Show you have all been waiting for…. Leo the Lion Tamer! Master of the Finest and Most Ferocious of Arts!
10:10: General Jerry and Josephine’s troop of Jolly Jugglers ( watch them work with flames and knives! Their favorite mediums)
10:21: Orville and Olive do Vaudeville till you laugh so hard you will cry!
10: 30 Medusa, the Mirroring Medium of the Moors
10:40: The Flying Fanfare of Fun Finale! Led by Sally the Soloist Soprano, Walter the Wizard of the Waltz, and Mimi the Miming Mute!
5:30 p.m. There’s hardly anyone around the circus floor and tent. All dressing rooms and halls are empty except for a couple members of Terry and Tiffany’s Trapeze City. Enter into green room 31, a man with a sparkling and glittering suit. He picks up a horn that is placed on the shelf in front of the mirror, next to make-up and miscellaneous bottles of face paint and accessories. He leaves with the horn placed under his arm pit in hiding.
It’s 6:30 pm. Green room 31.
“ I’m so excited for tonights opening show.” Said Oscar Humphrey the Human Octopus.
“ Isn’t it exciting? I think my favorite time is in the green room before the show, putting on our make-up and costumes, getting into character, and escaping from our miserable ‘real’ life personalities.” Replied Billy the Horn Blowing Clown.
“ Speak for yourself Billy, my persona in real life is pretty good.” Oscar derided jokingly. “ No, but I know what you mean. There is a magic and a mystery to the Performing Arts and to Theater. I know what you mean about the joy of becoming someone else, to don the clothes of imagination that can take you anywhere you would like it to take you.” Oscar concurred.
“ Like a magic carpet ride. Sometimes I feel imagination and fantasy is a million miles better than reality.” Billy added animatedly trying to keep up with Oscar’s enthusiasm.
“ You don’t know what passion for the stage is.. no one knows like I do.” Oscar said, proudly peering at his own reflection, gibing Billy again half- kiddingly as he painted his eyelashes with mascara. Billy was slightly irritated, he didn’t want to get into a competition with Oscar on who was more passionate about the stage. Billy wasn’t as vocal and displaying of his passion for theater as Oscar was, but he felt that didn’t mean that he wasn’t’ as “passionate”, he just held it in more. They both looked at their own images in the mirror with the stage bulbs surrounding. Billy was putting on his clown make-up. He felt such an added relief in every stroke of the brush, like each dash of blush and rouge on his face was pushing him a thousand miles of imagination further into the charming whimsical land of wonder and fantasy. He kept brushing his face while he went over to get his pantaloons.
“ I don’t know how you clowns are able to walk around in those things. They look so uncomfortable.”
“ They are, they are hot and baggy and they bunch up. But ces’t la vie.” And Billy stretched his rubber face down in a parody of sadness.
“ You were made to be a clown. That face you just made, was perfect. It had pathos, tragedy, and farce written all over it like a Shakespearean soliloquy.” Oscar conceded.
“ It took me a long time to find my true-calling, nobody wants to find out that they are a clown at heart. But once I embraced it, my life has been full- filled.” Billy replied as he put on his bulbous oversized shoes that looked like boats. Oscar began putting his suction cups on under his arms that curiously resembled the light bulbs that encircled the mirror.
“ I’m almost all set, I just have to find my horn.” Billy looks around for his horn amidst the make-up and costumes. “ Oscar, have you seen my horn?”
“ No I haven’t.”
Billy keeps looking, lifting clothes and sifting through drawers. “ why in the world would I have put it in a drawer? Why am I looking here?”
“ If your like me, I do things that I am not even consciously aware that I am doing. I am your classic absent minded artist.” Oscar exclaimed with hubris.
“ Unfortunately I am like you, I guess that is why I am looking in here.” Billy closes the drawer. “ Well this is great, it’s opening night, and I can’t find my horn.”
“ Did you try looking in your bag? I lose things and then forget to look in the most obvious of places, like one time I lost my eyeglasses on my head, they were on my head the whole time that I searched my room up and down.” Billy checks his bag following Oscar’s advice.
“ No… it’s not there either. Oh.. what is Buffalo Brimstone going to say? I will probably get fired!” Billy exclaimed nervously.
“ Why don’t you ask some of the others around the hall and out in the show room?” Oscar advised.
“ I think I will do that.” Billy answered. “ I will be right back.” Billy left the green room that he shared with Oscar the octopus and first went to the married couples room of Orville and Olive. He knocked and then entered without thinking. As he came in he saw Olive topless, fixing her hair in from of her mirror.
“ Oh for goodness sakes, doesn’t anyone knock around here?”
“ Oh I am so sorry!” Billy went out of the room while Olive put on a robe. “ I’m sorry, I did knock but I…”
“ You can come in now!” Olive called out and Billy re-entered.
“ I’m so sorry… I .. am… I .. am a bit distraught. Have you seen my horn around Olive?”
“ You mean that little gold thing?” Olive asked.
“ Yes, you know the one that basically my whole act is based on.” Billy hurriedly explained.
“ No I haven’t.”
Just then from the back bathroom Orville entered. Orville was a massive man with a huge hairy and a mustachioed face and chest who was also know to play the strongest man in the world during the summer season. He was 6 foot 6 and muscular like a Greco-Roman warrior.
“ Who is this?” Asked Orville.
“ Oh, it’s Billy the Horn Blowing Clown. You have nothing to worry about Orville.” Answered Olive. “ Orville darling, would you happen to have seen Billy’s horn?”
“ I hardly know who Billy is, let alone where his horn might me. What act do you follow son?” Orville peered down at Billy.
“ I am the first one on after intermission.” Billy replied. “ But I am easily missed, I’m only on for 13 minutes.”
“ Your probably working and training your voice during that time, with those marbles you bought honey.” Olive chimed in as she went over to Orville to rub his rug of a chest with her long finger nails. Orvilles chest expanded almost creating a shadow over Billy and his clown suit.
“ Ok, thank you… if you happen to see it, will you let me know? I share a room with Oscar the octopus in room 31.” Billy stated.
“ Will do darling.” Olive answered as Orville looked slightly irritated.
After closing the door behind him, Billy then went into the next room where on the front of the door it read, BONNIE THE CLOUD SWINGER. Billy knocked.
“ Who is it?” Replied a young female voice.
“ It’s Billy the Horn Blowing Clown.” Billy responded.
“ How can I help you? I am in the middle of dressing, can you come back in 5 minutes?” The feminine voice asked.
“ Well, it is .. have you seen a horn? My little orange or gold horn?”
The door opened and there stood a beautiful young woman in her early 20’s.
“ What did you say? Your horn?”
“ Yes, my horn… hi, I am Billy the…”
“ The Horn Blowing Clown, I got that part. My name is Bonnie the Cloud Swinger.” Bonnie introduced herself holding out her hand to shake. Billy shook her hand.
“ Bonnie the Cloud Swinger, I have never heard of you before. Are you in the show tonight?”
“ I am not in the show tonight but I will be in a week or so, after Buffalo Brimstone is done with the introductions tonight, he is going to work with me on my act. We are going to rehearse.”
“ Well nice to have you aboard the family.” Billy said kindly but slightly like an abject failure.
“ What is this about a horn?” Bonnie questioned.
“ Iv’e lost my horn. It is the centerpiece of my act. I can’t find it anywhere in my dressing room. The only thing I can think of is maybe I dropped it somewhere or..”
“ I haven’t seen you horn, but if I come across it I will give it to you for sure.” Bonnie energetically and positively proclaimed like she was eager to prove herself a loyal new member of the circus family.
“ Thank you so much, and if you could mention to others that I have lost it and..”
“ Will do!” Bonnie concluded as she closed her door and her face disappeared behind the closing crack.
Door 57, “Pauli and Porky” is written on the door. Billy knocks. No reply. He knocks again. Billy enters, and turns the light on. He gazes into the dressing room and sees some pogo sticks, a colorful dress with white and pink frills, some hoola hoops hanging on the corner top of a closet door, and a man’s garters and suspenders with some striped pantaloons. Out of the corner of his eye, Billy sees a trumpet resting in a duffel bag the back of the poorly lit room. It is back near a window, and the light of dusk is making it glimmer in a soft silver.
“ Should I grab it?” Billy thought. “ I can always give it back later.” He went back to the duffel bag, picked it up, and noticed that it definitely had someones belongings in it, and that it was in use, it was not some old bag storing things for the long dusty term. No, it was someones bag. It had a pair of expensive headphones, some gym and athletic clothes, a wallet, a make-up kit, pencils and paper, an old fashioned tape- recorder, a wrist watch, and a collection of coins shuffling and sliding around at the bottom. Billy felt guilty just standing there and holding it. He had done nothing wrong, and yet, if the door suddenly swung open and someone saw Billy standing there with the bag in his hand, he would feel culpable. He looked up at a big ticking clock on the wall. 6:55 p.m.
He had 15 minutes before he had to be backstage to greet the team for a group Hurrah. “ I had better not take it. It would be rude of me, to rummage through some guys bag and take his trumpet without permission.” Billy put the bag back down on the floor under the window, and left the room turning the lights off.
Billy was beginning to feel frantic. If Buffalo Brimstone found out that he was unprepared, it wouldn’t be unheard of that he would get fired. He had heard of others vanishing from the team, almost like Soviet Citizens during Stalin and the gulags, and no one spoke a word about it for fear they might lose their jobs as well. Brimstone was a perfectionist. Brilliant, demanding, bullying, but he delivered the goods. He was consistently written up as the best Circus in the country for the last ten years straight, and he was “going to keep it that way”, he would say to us. He would often tell us how exposable we were. “ You see one clown, you’ve seen them all.” He would whistle arrogantly and say,”there is not one of your jobs that I couldn’t fill in a week. I can train any bozo off the corner street, mold him or her into the role or character that I need. Everyone one of you is dispensable, so do your job, or you won’t have one.” And then he would go back to whistling. Billy never could figure out what that darn song was, he thought it might be by Kurt Weill, which would be befitting to Buffalo Brimstone; some demented vaudeville song, deranged but brilliant.
All of the actors and performers were getting ready for the show. Virtually everyone was bedecked in full costume, waiting for pre -curtain call for the group hurrah. They were all chatting amongst themselves pouring out into the hallway, half in green rooms half out, all collecting together. Billy was the only one who didn’t fit. Because he couldn’t find his horn, he hadn’t fully put on his costume and clown nose. His whig hadn’t been properly placed on his head, it was twisted to the side. He looked truly like a clown.
After rushingly running through the hall, he came across Sunflower, Buffalo Brimstone’s assistant.
Knowing that Sunflower to be a gentle loving soul, a calming and soothing agent for Buffalo and everyone else, Billy approached her,
“ Sunflower, I have lost my horn.” Billy stumbled on his pantaloons and fumbled to pick up his nose that fell to the ground.
“ Well don’t let Buffalo find out!”
“ I know that’s why I am coming to you. What do I do?” Billy put his nose back on.
Sunflower had blonde, almost yellowish orange hair, hence the moniker “Sunflower.” She was always smiling and eager to alleviate any unfortunate disturbance in the machinery of the smooth runnings of the show.
“ Have you looked everywhere?”
“ Everywhere. I did see in Pauli and Porky’s room a duffel bag that had a trumpet in it. Do you know who that belongs to?”
“ That’s Benjamins the Brown Bear’s.”
“ The bear plays a trumpet and rides a unicycle? Where did they get this… “ Billy was confused what to call it, “ thing?”
“ From Siberia.”
TO BE CONTINUED......
“ Do you think that I can use it?” Billy asked.
“ The owner isn’t here. He is out of town, touring his parrot.” Sunflower responded.
“ Would he mind if I used it do you think? Why is his wallet in there?” Billy felt pressured to conclude the discussion so as to quickly resolve his dilemma, but the curiosity of why the wallet was in the bag did cause him to ask.
“ I think that might be the bears too.” Sunflower chuckled in shared disbelief. Billy shook his head, mystified.
“ I don’t even have time to try and wrap my head around that.” Billy said anxiously.
“ Anyway, I think the bear is going to use it in his act. And Brimstone will notice that it isn’t your horn anyway.” Ended Sunflower.
“ALL ACTORS, COMEDIANS, PERFORMERS, CHOREOGRAPHERS, DANCERS, MUSICIANS, ARTISANS, SCRIPT WRITERS… IN SHORT, EVERYONE TO THE BACK STAGE FOR ‘THE GROUP PEP’ IMMEDIATELY!”
Thundered an enormous and commanding voice.
“ Oh my god, its Brimstone! Its … I’ve run out of time. What am I going to do?!” Worried Billy.
“ Let’s ad- lib our way out of this. Let’s go to the meeting and try and figure things out as we go.” Sunflower hooked Billy’s elbow and they headed off to the company pep gathering.
Brimstone was on high at a podium, under the great big circus tent with a hundred or more crew members below:
“ I WANT THIS YEAR TO BE THE BEST SEASON REILLY’S SHINING CIRCUS ON THE HILL HAS EVER HAD, AND TO DO THIS, I AM PERFECTLY FINE WITH ELIMINATING ANYONE WHO DOES NOT LIVE UP TO MY STANDARDS OF EXCELLENCE.
AND THAT MEANS YOU… AND YOU…” Brimstone began pointing at individual members of the troupe. “AND YOU! IF YOU CAN’T PERFORM YOU DUTIES WITH THE UTOMST PROFESSIONALISM, I WILL SIMPLY FIND SOMEONE OFF OF ANY OLD STREET CORNER, MOULD THEM INTO A JUGGLER, A DANCER, A MUSICIAN, WHATEVER I NEED. FOR I AM THE GREAT CREATOR. IF IT WEREN’T FOR ME, NONE OF THIS WOULD BE HAPPENING! YOU ARE ETERNALLY INDEBTED TO ME- IF YOU WANT TO LEAVE, BE MY GUEST, THE DOOR IS OVER THERE, GO JOIN A SECOND RATE PROGRAM!”
Billy felt himself getting smaller and smaller. Sometimes he wondered why everyone didn’t just decide to leave. Brimstone was such a jerk, but a talented one to be sure. He absurdly checked his baggy and empty pockets for his horn, knowing full well that it was not there. Sunflower gave him a pat on the back for soothing. This is what Billy wanted, he wanted to be a member of a winning team. He wanted to be number one in something, since in real life he so often felt like a loser. The troupe was his chance to turn lemons into lemonade. He was a born clown, why not use it to his advantage? Turn it into a career? And yet he was afraid of Brimstone. He had so much respect for him, and yet also had suppressed and unaddressed hatred. He didn’t want to feel enmity, so he simply repressed it for the sake of his own and everyone’s peace.
“ Oh what am I going to do? He will kill me or at least fire me for sure. I will be unemployed with no place to go. I will have to play a real clown out in the very real homeless streets.”
“ Oh don’t be silly. I will let you secretly stay with me if it comes to that.” Sunflower spoke, her lips spreading invisible emollient into the air. Then, out of nowhere, a man in a sparkly suit holding a whip, came around to Sunflower and Billy.
“ He demands respect doesn’t he? Of course he is kind of right, he molded all of us into the successes that we have become.”
“ Oh hello Leo.” Sunflower said. “ Billy, have you met Leo the Lion Tamer?”
“ No, but I have always wanted to.” Billy replied, and then turned to Leo with star -spangled eyes, “ You are one of my biggest heroes.”
“ Well with the act that you have been developing lately, I may just be eclipsed by you and your growing fame.” Leo said with a slight air of duplicity.
“ Oh don’t be foolish, I could never do a show that ever even came close in the level of drama and entertainment that you deliver.” Billy said humbly.
“ Where is you horn?” Leo asked.
“ That is what we have been trying to figure out Leo.” Sunflower chimed. “ Would you happen to have seen it anywhere?”
“ Well don’t let Buffalo find out. He will fire you on the spot, you know how hot tempered he is…” Leo said with a small up curl of pleasure to the corner of his mouth, for which he tried to cover up by redirecting attentions to a very grabbing, staged drama on his serious, oh so sorrowful, contracted brow. “ No, I don’t know where it is. If I see it, I will be sure to give it to you.” Leo’s mouth was lopsided. Half of it was in full form of forlorn concern, the other half was sketched in an unmistakable smirk of sincere pleasure. Billy pretended not to notice it, didn’t want to notice it, or wouldn’t allow himself to notice it.
“ Would you happen to have a horn Leo, I could borrow?” Billy asked.
“ I’m so sorry.. I don’t. Surely in this enormous circus somewhere there has to be another horn for you to use.” Leo peered up at the stage at Brimstone speaking angrily to crew members , this time the smirk had consumed the entire bed of lips on Leo’s face. It was indisputable, his secret satisfaction was evident to see, even for a moron like Billy.
“ You seem happy for some reason. Did you win the lottery or something?” Billy inquired.
“ No.. I … I am so sorry, I need to get going, there are still a couple of things in my act that I need to iron out…I wish you the best in your search for you horn.” And Leo left like a man wanted and searched by all. His chin and form exclaimed “importance”.
“ I am so amazed that I just met Leo the Lion Tamer. One of my true idols.” Billy said to Sunflower.
“ Look, we had better figure out your problem, and fast.” Sunflower pondered. There was a moment of anxious yet mute stillness between the two of them. They were speechless in restless thought.
“ Iv’e got it! I’ve got it!” Declared Sunflower snapping her fingers as though she had just solved a solution to a great math problem. “ You do your show as a mime. The only way for you to get out of this, is to go with it. Put on the chutzpah as The Jews say. Go over the top, be brash, be unapologetically bossy and brave, in short, be shameless!” Sunflower spoke with energy.
“ What do you mean? Be a pantomime? Pretend that I am playing a horn?”
“ Yes! You know in your training by Brimstone, how he says ‘nothing is as noisy and attention getting as as pure silence.’?”
“ Yes, I have heard him say that before a few times.”
“ So let him have it. You are going to give him the gag of his life. An overdose of the word gag, your going to gag him, his mouth, and the entire audience without a sound, and then make em laugh like they have never been choked or joked before.”
“ That sounds almost evil or something.” Billy said concernedly.
“ All of life is evil to someone, somewhere, sometimes, there is no getting around it Billy.” Sunflower consoled.
“ Well maybe your right. Maybe the only solution is to just go vaudeville over the top with it… take silence and my lack of a horn, and shove it in Brimstone’s face and hope he falls for it and takes the bait and likes it… ”
“ There you go.” Agreed Sunflower.
Billy was jittery with nervousness in the wings, waiting for Benjamin the Brown Bear to finish blowing his bear enslobbered trumpet while riding his unicycle going up and down a maze of boards. Just as Benjamin was to make it to the very top of the tent, he was supposed to drop down into a supposed block of cement, but for which was actually the world’s softest styrofoam. He would fall some 60 feet, the lights would dim when he would hit the ground,, and Billy was to go on during the moment of darkness to switch acts with Benjamin the Bear.
“Here it comes,” Billy muttered out loud like he saw almost all of his fellow performers do when they were nervous. Sometimes he thought it may be a sign that he was an idiot, or that he had gone nuts when he found himself talking out loud to himself, but after being around the other actors and performers he saw that they too had developed the very same habit to handle the stresses of the theatrical life. Blue light from the stage illuminated Billy’s face and his pink and white and blue clown suit. His big red wig and big nose was a cliche of a cliche, the Bear fell 60 feet, landed with a “Whap!”, on the stage floor styrofoam, and the Theater went black. Out waddled big boat shoes and fat butt Billy. The lights went on, he felt bare, raw, the spotlight of heat was on him, he quaked in agitation and uncertainly. He felt his mouth cheeks quake, he heard an audience door slam in a back red light exit, he fidgeted, the audience looked behind them at the noise. And then redirected their attentions back to Billy noting that it was nothing to be alarmed of. Billy decided to go with his nerves, when he felt a quake of his mouth cheek leak a nerve of fretful anguish, he would extinguish it by moving into it. He rolled over to the side that was most nervous, and did a summersault. He heard a pleasant little giggle in the audience from a solitary man, after he uprighted himself, this little laughter he heard, relieved some tensions in his body. Then Billy went up the the man that giggled after his summersault, and pulled his laffy taffy lips into a huge downwelling loop of satirical sadness, and he heard the man joyfully snigger once more. Then Billy pulled out from his pocket, a make believe horn, and faked in the most haughty and noble manner, a march like a marionette with his shoulders pulled back in an arrogance that he had never known himself to have, and the crowd began to roar in laughter. He bent over, farted, then put his invisible horn up to his butt, and pretending to blow farts. He even saw Brimstone in the audience, and then out of nowhere, said snottily breaking his silence, “ Nothing is as noisy and attention getting as pure silence!” And then he grabbed the ends of his rubber lips, stared right at Brimstone, a spotlight suddenly zero’d in on the man named Buffalo, and Billy made funny rapid bubbling noises with his mouth with snot running down his nose in disrespect. The crowd exploded in applause. Billy knew when he did that, it was case of either/or. Either he was going to be fired, or Brimstone was going to love it; but there was going to be no middle ground.
After his act was over, so much anxiety had been shed in his performance, that he almost didn’t care either way if he was fired or kept on by Brimstone. It was like his performance had transcended space and time, and had so explored out into the regions of infinite space and time, that the boundaries of his life, his very life itself had been changed forever, and he felt that he could never really lose. Boundaries that he had confined himself to, were now obliterated forever.
After the show, Buffalo Brimstone lauded Billy as the Greatest act he had ever been apart of. Buffalo had for then on, held Billy’s performance up as the standard of excellence that the whole crew and troupe should strive for. As for the mystery as to who had taken Billy the Horn Blowing Clown’s horn at 5:30 pm earlier that day, all the narrator can say is, Truth, Justice and Karma were delivered, when Leo the Tamer was devoured on stage by one of his lions in the act directly following Billy’s.
A Jigsaw Puzzle
Its a Friday night. Mary and her 15- year old daughter Jasmine, are home alone together, having just finished dinner.
“That was delicious mom.” Jasmine said, as she brings her used dishes over to the sink.
“ Well thank you honey, It is lo-cal, I hope it wasn’t too bland.”
“ Your tuna casserole is the best anywhere mom, and the fact that it is healthy, makes it all the better.”
“ Do you have much homework to do for the weekend?” Mary inquired as she begins collecting all of the dishes and plates off of the dining room table.
“ I little bit of Math, I have to write an essay for English class, and I have some German vocab to memorize, but not much else.”
“ I hate to interfere with your studies, you know how much I care that you do well in school, but, why don’t you study for an hour or so tonight, and then let’s do something together ok?”
“ Ok… what did you have in mind?”
“ I’m not sure, let me think about it while you are in your room studying.”
“Ok.” Answered Jasmine, as she walked back to her back bedroom to do her studies.
Jasmine was an excellent student and was preparing to go to Sebastian Private College, an elite school in Vermont that only allowed students to matriculate who had at least an A plus average in standard classes; what made a student appear really competitive were A plus marks in accelerated or advanced courses, which Jasmine was coalescing. SAT scores had to be 1400 or higher; Mary had enrolled Jasmine in a SAT prep course in town that Jasmine attended once a week on Wednesday nights. Jasmine closed her door behind her.
Jasmine had developed a nervous tick when she studied. She plucked her arm hairs off. Trichotillomania is a compulsive desire to pull out ones hair; ones eyebrows, scalp, eyelashes, wherever one has hair. An irresistible urge to pull, to prune and pick; to pluck and release apprehension and stress. Jasmine had an impulse control disorder that relieved almost mystically, tensions in her mind. When a problem she was really stuck on, ruminated on, when the nerves were strained, she would tug on a follicle, could feel the suspicion build in her brain, and then, like yanking a carrot out of the ground, she would look at her prize, and stare at the root with great satisfaction. She also had the “disgusting habit”, according to her, of biting and chewing off her fingernails. Often these jagged, white half- moon slivers of hardened protein, C -shaped critters could be found, snagged on her carpet floor. She would try to pick them all up, but missed them sometimes. Tonight was no different.
She began with Trigonometry. Trichotillomania during trigonometry. A trick, a tick, a dig. A right triangle, with one angle being 51 degrees, the hypotenuse being ten, find x and H. Pick….. pull…. release…. An hour went by, and to Jasmine’s satisfaction, she finished nearly all of her Math for the weekend. Jasmine had a mixed feeling about homework. On the one hand, she loved getting good grades, she loved the reward, like a drug and a hug, when she would receive the best score in class. And yet, another part of her, that she hadn’t fully addressed, knew it was not real; it wasn’t real knowledge. It was rote learning. A kind of parrot regurgitating, and she knew that in a way, she was just being a do gooder, a brown noser. She liked making her mother happy and proud of her, she loved the accolades and the promise of a golden future her teachers would grant her; and yet something there was, that had a twinge of the artificial about it, she tugged on another hair.
“ Honey… are you almost done in there?” Mary called in, and knocked on her door.
“ Yes mom, I will be right out.”
Jasmine came out of her room, closed her door behind her, and walked out into the living room area. Jasmine loved her mother, they were close, but not so close, that Jasmine didn’t want to keep some secrecy and distance from Mary; that is why she closed her door, and unspoken word, every time she closed it that said, “ I love you mom, we are so close, you know that, but I still like a certain amount of privacy.” Mary never mentioned or questioned Jasmine on the matter.
“ What do you want to do?” Asked Jasmine.
“ Well, how about we play a board game? I thought maybe we would play a board game and then watch the Yesterday and Tomorrow show with Jim Palmer at 11.” Mary suggested.
“ Well… ok..”
“ You don’t seem enthused.” Mary noticed.
“ It’s just that we always play Battlestar and Line of Five, and we don’t have any other games.”
“ We have Uncle Wiggley” Mary laughed with the smallest touch of sadness that Jasmine did not notice.
“ Mom, I’m not 6 years old anymore.”
“ I know honey. I was kind of kidding.” Mary was kidding, and yet, deep down she never wanted her daughter to grow up and leave her. She knew, that she would have to be the adult, and gradually allow Jasmine to gain distance from her over time, but it hurt, nevertheless. “ Ok, why don’t we go down town to Hamlets Retail Store, and buy a new game?”
“ Ok, that sounds like a good idea.” Jasmine perked up.
Jasmine and Mary got into Mary’s 1980 BMW collection model. A small car, a diplomatic style car from the Cold War era. Solid steel, dark- blue,
classy, just like Mary. When they arrived at Hamlet’s, they parked as close as they could to the humongous shopping center. But that was still a good 500 feet away. A massive center, the Friday night indoor lighting of the buildings, projected an eternal light into the night from which Mother and Daughter walked up to and approached with the sounds of clicking heals on black pavement; the complex looked other worldly, like it, Mary and Jasmine, just for a second, could have been in a different part of the galaxy. They made it through the pane glass windowed doors, that rotated on hinges that ran smooth and pulled and adjusted well to the tug of a hand. The glass reflected innumerable lights and shapes off of the indoors and outdoors, that no trigonometry could ever give order to.
“ Game section?” Mary asked a floor clerk.
“ Up one floor, to the far north end of the building.” A woman said.
“ Thank you.” Mary replied.
“ Hey I know mom, why don’t we get a jigsaw puzzle? We haven’t done one of those in a long time.”
“ Hey, good idea!” Mary enthused. The pair proceeded to escalate up an escalator, that had huge long and looping black rubber tires rotating on underground or unseen wheels for handles; with glass narrow side walls that tucked them in tight in its rails.
“ I love you mom. I never want to leave you.” Jasmine said.
“ I love you too honey. You say that now, but in a couple years, you will be excited to go off to college, believe me.” As they approached the top of the ceiling that turned into the floor of the next level, they shot off forwards a step, onto the marbled surface. “ Well let’s see.. she said the games would be over here somewhere.” Mary led Jasmine as she peered over clothes and merchandise displays, shelves and racks.
“ Well hello there strangers.” A male voice rang out over near a jewelry display. Startled, yet with the vague sense of awareness as to the source of the voice, Mary and Jasmine peered up simultaneously in slight horror.
“ Let me give me daughter and former wife a hug.” The man moved in with wide open arms and a big smile that concealed a very well hidden anxiety.
“ George… well.. what a surprise.” Mary gave him a hug, but she nearly resembled a corpse in her warmth.
“ Hi, dad.” Jasmine said cautiously.
“ What brings you here on a Friday night?” George asked.
“ I was just about to ask you the same thing.” Said Mary. Jasmine moved closer to Mary, as if to say, “I am on her side”.
“ I’m looking for a new drier. Can you believe that mine…” and then he perked up, “ You know… the drier we used all of those years at the house, it finally went Kaput. It burnt my trousers, they almost caught fire. I smelled the charred material all the way up stairs. Good thing I caught it in time, otherwise the whole house might have gone up in flames. Or even worse, had I been sleeping or taking a nap it could have likely killed me.” George said incredulously with his eyes and eyebrows widening, while Mary and Jasmine feigned looks of concern.
“ Well we are looking for some entertainment for the night. We were thinking of getting another board game, but Jasmine thought we might want to get a jigsaw puzzle instead.” Mary informed politely.
“ Here, let me give you a hug Jasmine, I didn’t get one.” George realized and moved in and down towards Jasmine with big out stretched arms. Jasmine postured just as her mother had, like a dead fish; body, absent all spirit.
“ Oh for God’s sake. Hugging the two of you is like hugging a ghost, there is nothing there. Don’t worry! Daddy isn’t going to abduct you!” George said frustratedly.
“ Oh let’s not start here in Hamlets; this is neither the time nor the place.” Mary said firmly.
“ Sure, after you achieved custody and essentially took my daughter away from me. Easy for you to say!” George was amping up.
“ Anyway, we need to get going, take care George.” Mary said and grabbed Jasmine’s arm as they walked away together.
“ Being anti- patriarchy is very popular these days, very common, you see it all over the news, in the court rooms, hell! Even in the shopping malls! Goodbye toots! Goodbye Mizzzz Jasmine!”
Jasmine and her mother walked a pace quickly to get away from George. They were afraid of him, he, to them, was an unhinged man. After they had gotten about 20 yards away, Jasmine looked behind, and saw that George was no longer behind them.
“ Why in the world did you marry him, mom, in the first place?” Jasmine asked in rehearsed bewilderment, for they had had this conversation many times before, but it always seemed to be a source of fresh renewed fascination for them both to discuss.
“ He changed. He totally changed, he is not the same man that I married 22 years ago. Either he had a head injury, or… I don’t know what happened but.. I never saw it coming.” Mary answered in a sort of enjoyment in hashing over some very dramatic tidbits with her daughter, that was so much a part of both of their lives, that, like was said before, was a source of endless interest for them both.
Jasmine smiled at the drama, and then said, “ God, I wish he would just leave us alone.” As she looked behind her one more time.
“ Well, here we are. The game section.” Mary stopped. “ jigsaw puzzles… where are the jigsaw puzzles?” She scanned as Jasmine was still lost in thought having just seen her father for the first time in several months.
“ What is dad even doing these days for work do you know?” Asked Jasmine.
“ I think he got a new job working at Bonniwell inc.” Mary uttered half heartedly while her eyes were scanning the shelves.
“ Is he still doing computer programming?”
“ That’s about all you father can do I am afraid.” Mary said with her eyes suddenly latching on to a box. “ Ah ha! Jigsaw puzzles. We have… here come over here Jasmine. Check out the different pictures we have to choose from. Which one should we get?”
“ Sometimes I feel kind of bad for dad. He is such a loner.. what is wrong with him? Why can’t he just be normal for a change? He is so weird”
“ Forget him honey, let’s concentrate on the project at hand here… which one would you like to get?” Mary continued.
“ let’s not get the Frankenstein or the Dracula, no Sponge bob, or any of these kiddy ones. Let’s get…….” And Jasmine began to seriously consider as she hummed slightly, “ this one! France, Paris. The Eiffel Tower.”
“ I would have thought you would have wanted to get the Munich one. Why did you change to German again for your foreign language prerequisite?” Mary queried in bemused yet slightly hesitant wonder.
“ Oh.. its goth. I love the sound of it.. there is this great punk singer from Berlin, she is this opera singer who sings in punk bands, she is so cool, and the way she speaks German, is… “ Jasmine shook her head almost with chills, “ you have to hear her mom… she is amazing!”
“ I think I have heard you speak of her before, is that that Nina Fagen?”
“ yes, oh I forgot I told you already about her.” Jasmine said, as she picked up the jigsaw box.
“ I don’t know, German culture is …” Mary shook her head disapprovingly , “ Let’s just say I prefer the French. Good choice on the box.”
As Jasmine and her mother began looking for a cashier to pay for the puzzle, they saw George returning up the escalator, walking towards them, There was no way for them to avoid him.
“ Look I am sorry I became huffy earlier. What are you two doing right now?” George asked.
“ We were just going to go home and do the puzzle.” Mary answered slightly irritated and impatient.
“ Would you want to go out right now for a bite to eat somewhere?” George inquired apologetically. “I’ll buy”
Jasmine piped up, “ We already ate dad. Mom made her great tuna casserole.”
“ I wish I would have been there!” George exclaimed with a smile but also with a touch of blame in his voice towards Mary. Mary picked it up, but said nothing.
“ why don’t you come out with me to get a little ice -cream? Or a desert somewhere?” George almost begged. There was a long period of silence. Jasmine and Mary kind of looked at each other, and Mary shook her head in frustrated disbelief of the inconvenience of having run into her x- husband.
“ We just don’t have the time tonight George.” Mary countered. Mary felt stuck, like she so often did around George, between wanting to be compassionate and not cruel to George, but at the same time not wanting him to get away with manipulating and bullying her, for she too, “was a person that deserved compassion”, she kept trying to remind herself.
“ How about this weekend? Do you have any time this weekend?” George said slightly frantically. Mary shook her head.
“ We have to get going.. please don’t do this to us.. just leave us alone!” Mary looked around for the exit, but then remembered they hadn’t paid yet. Rejection is one of the hardest pills to swallow, and lets just say that George had a weak stomach to begin with.
“ You fucking bitch. I did everything for you, I tried to make you and Jasmine happy! But you…” George’s voice was raising. Mary grabbed Jasmine’s arm and began hurriedly looking for any path of escape, while George followed close behind. “ Help! Help!” Mary called out down the aisles.
“ Is there a problem here Ma’am?” Asked a clerk.
“ You tell him George, is there a problem? Or are we going to have to call the police?” Mary challenged George.
“ I’ll remember this Mary!” George looked Mary straight in the eyes.
“ Please leave her alone sir, we cannot tolerate this kind of loud commotion in our store. Please leave the premises sir, or I will have to call security.” Added the clerk.
George broke off, and left the store, clearing the way for Jasmine and Mary to buy their jigsaw puzzle. On their drive home, what had been before a fascinating irritant in seeing George, was now more serious. Sometimes Mary was afraid of George, truly afraid. When he stared at her and said,” I’ll remember this Mary!” His words just rang in her head, and she felt sometimes, that perhaps George really was a danger….his eyes made him look so deranged. She didn’t know for sure what to think about him.
“ let’s forget about that Bozo, ok Jazz?” Mary said as they drove home in her BMW, with the wind -shield wipers on, for it was starting to drizzle. Mary would call Jasmine, ‘Jazz’, when she wasn’t feeling emotionally settled.
“ No problem here mom, I could care less if I ever see that guy again.” Replied Jasmine.
“ Even though that ‘guy’ happens to be your father?” Mary asked with her tongue tucked in her cheek.
“ Especially because he is my father… it gives me the creeps sometimes that I am even remotely related to him, let alone his direct descendant. When we get home, let me play you some Nina Fagen before we start the puzzle ok?” Jasmine asked.
“ Ok.” Answered Mary.
“ Her voice is absolutely amazing! Apparently she was an opera prodigy by the time she was 12.”
When they returned home, Jasmine played some of Nina Fagen’s music to her mom, and her mom was deeply impressed.
“ I just think it is so cool that she is like, an opera star prodigy, but she chose to dye her hair pink and she wears leather and sings punk instead.”
Jasmine exclaimed after playing a final track. They spread the jigsaw puzzle out on the floor, as well as themselves.
“ What a relief to get him off of our backs though.” Mary said, still slightly ruffled by the evening events as she stared at the pieces, but one could tell her mind was somewhere else a bit.
“ Well I was kind of worried that we may be bored tonight, but looks like we didn’t have that problem. I’m certainly far from bored.” Said Jasmine.
“There is no way that we will be able to do the whole puzzle tonight, how long should we work on it?” She asked her mom.
“ Oh, I am a bit rattled. Why don’t we work on it just for about an hour ok?”
Mike Fognini, 55 years old, is a professional photographer. After a month and a half straight of an explosion of artistic expression, having produced hundreds of his best photos to date, this particular night, all of the juices in him had dried up, and as he stood in his dark room, peering at his black and white photos from the day before, developing in chemicals in a pan. He felt so tired and dried up, that a beginner photographer could do better and more inspiring work than what he was now able to muster at this point in time. Mike often wondered, whether practice, or incubation was more important. Should he keep making photos even without the inspiration? For the value of practice? Or was it better to take time off? Brood? Ponder? The problem is, he had taken time off in the past to brood and ponder, and the dark room would not see him again for several years. All of his confidence, that had propelled him into sails of dramatic and dreamy clouds of creative inspiration and expression, was now dead, and not a single ripple in the flags around town could be seen. Nobody ever paid for his work, and he knew it wouldn’t be for long before he would have to get a “real job”. He was walking on his way to get some food along the long line of city street restaurants, hoping a walk in some night air might help. He felt dead and hungry.. Mike hasn’t had meat in a while. Mike tries to be a vegetarian for the most part in his eating habits, but for health reasons believes that it is wise to add red meat into his diet occasionally. On his walk along the winter night sidewalks, he notices ahead of him a number of airplanes arriving into the metropolis. Red and white like mosquitos ever so gradually moving in and out of sky traffic, giving it away that they are aircraft, and not stars. Some of the aircraft appear to be airplanes with head lamps on.. One particular light in the night sky has attracted Mike’s attention.
“ My god that star is bright.” Mike thinks to himself. “I have never in my life seen such a bright star… that can’t be a star. It must be another aircraft of some sort.” Mike paused along a line of telephone wires that crossed the light in the distance. “ I will use these wires as a marker to see if the light is moving. I should be able to tell its most minutest of changes in direction.” He stopped, closed an eyelid, and saw the light move against the wire. “ I thought so, it is an aircraft. There is no way that that could have been a star.” Mike, feeling relieved that he had resolved the mystery kept on walking; but as he kept on walking, he noticed that the light was not getting any bigger or smaller. He walked some more… no.. it still wasn’t changing.
“ Wait a second. Let me look at that again.” He paused along another set of telephone wires in the dark blue night sky, closed an eyelid again… and noticed that this time there was no movement. The light was not getting closer of further to the prospective wire.
“ Maybe that was the wind before that made the other wire move… making me think it was a craft. I just can’t believe that that is a star. I have never in my life seen such a thing. I wish I had my binoculars… it must be a planet.. maybe Mars, or.. Venus, or.. it looks so close I feel like I could maybe see it with my bare eye. If I had my telescope that would be so cool. I wish I had it with me.”
Mike continued astounded at what he was witnessing. Mike was not very well educated on stars, constellations, the patterns of celestial bodies and the moon, but he enjoyed peering up into the crystal chandelier that was the Milky Way. He was in the city, and yet the star was so bright it just cut through all of the city light pollution.
“ Well, where should I go? I could go to the the pizza shop owned by those middle -eastern guys, or I could .. but I always go there. And I haven’t had any meat for a while. Why don’t I stick to the plan, I will go to this diner and get a hamburger, fries and a milk shake. “
Upon entering, Mike waited at the front desk, thinking that he had to wait to be seated, but then looked down and noticed a sign that said, “please seat yourself.” Looking around the diner, he saw a fairly large group of high school kids gathered around and appearing rather rowdy as teenagers usually are, so he decided to get a seat at the counter bar. A young hermaphrodite, or androgynous boy, girl? Mike wasn’t sure, approached him to act as his server. Normally, Mike doesn’t speak much to others. He doesn’t know what to say, he isn’t really good at small talk, and when it comes to those inevitable empty spaces between newly met faces, he would fill in the gaps with meaningless stupidities. But this evening, he decided he wanted to be a friendly person, to feel the warmth and connection with another soul, even if it was over small banter. The hermaphrodite must have been in her/his early twenties.
“ I’ll have your burger and shake special.”
“ What kind of cheese would you like on it sir?
“ Give me cheddar.”
“ Ok… what kind of shake would you like?”
“ Actually can you make it a malt?”
“ I’ll have a butterscotch malt.”
“ We don’t have butterscotch.”
“ Ok.. give me chocolate instead then…”
Fifteen minutes later the food came.
“ Is this red bottle ketchup?”
“ No.. it is just a really red bottle.”
Mike was slightly taken back, was she being sarcastic and rude to him?
“ Well you never know.. I mean it could have some hot sauce in there…. Its not labelled. Do you have any mustard?”
She/he pulled out from a bottom counter a yellow bottle of mustard.
“Thank you.” Mike said. “ You just never know with these bottles, I knew a guy once that poured, what he thought, was maple syrup onto his pancakes and it turned out to be chocolate, he had to re- order. I just didn’t want to…”
“ No.. I know what you mean. Its always good to ask.”
Normally Mike would not say anything at this point, but he wanted to connect with people a bit. She looked like she/ he might be a vegan, and he didn’t want to be judgmental of his/her life style. He or she obviously was probably a homosexual in all likely hood, whatever her/his sex. Mike was trying to learn to have compassion and understanding for all peoples from all walks of life.
“ I usually don’t eat meat, but I have red meat about once every two months.”
“ oh yea.. I have to eat meat, I tried to be a vegetarian for a while and I became ill.”
“ Well you have to know what you are doing.”
“ my mother had us eat mainly vegetables, but I grew up on a farm with pigs so…”
“ Oh really? Where was you farm?”
“ All over Minnesota and Nebraska, ever heard of Cody, Nebraska?”
“No I haven’t. But one of my favorite stories as a kid was Charlottes Web.”
“ Oh yea.. I only read that once. I used to read Animal Farm to my younger siblings..”
Mike was still trying to find out if she was a she or he was a he.
“ My girlfriend and I love George Orwell.”
“ Animal Farm is a little sophisticated for kids isn’t it? I mean, it is kind of adult literature.” Mike said, as he perused the face, trying to read the signs.
“ They still loved it.”
Mike began eating bites slightly uncomfortably in-between talk, but was still fascinated enough not to break off.
“ I once had a friend when I was fifteen, who lived on a farm. I spent the weekend with him once, my god it was a lot of work. We got up at 4:30 am, and shoveled cow shit and milked the cows…you should have seen his hands, they were twice the size of mine.” Mike said.
“ Oh yea.. I loved the callouses I had when I lived on the farm. Look at my hands now…” He/She put out their hands.
They looked feminine to Mike.. he bet she was a lesbian. “I bet she is a she.” Mike thought, then spoke out loud to her. “ Yeah, this kid was tough as all get out. It always seems to me that living on a farm would be kind of charming. But maybe that is just because I live in the city. I suppose when you live in the city, the country seems charming, and when you live in the country, the city is fascinating.”
“ I had friends that would never come to the city, they were so afraid of it.”
Mike saw his chance to confirm in public that she was a female. “ Well I think it is easier for us males in the city, in terms of feeling safe.”
“ oh yes.. your right.” She replied.
Mike now felt comfortable that he knew what sex she was.
“ any way, I will let you get back to your meal.” She said.
Mike felt a bubble of love and joy shine in his heart. “ It must be difficult to grow up androgynous like that… and then to be a lesbian. She warms my heart.” And Mike went to start really concentrating on eating his hamburger.
After he was finished, he asked her for the check. She gave it to him, and when he went to look at the server name on the bill, the name said, “ Sirius”.
“ Are you serious? Your name is Sirius?” Mike unintentionally punned.
“ Yes, like in Sirius radio satellite, or the star.”
“ Oh right.. you know, as I was walking here, I couldn’t get my eyes off of this star in the sky.”
“ Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky.” Sirius said.
“ That must have been sirius then. That is so weird. I have never heard anyone by the name of “Sirius” before, and I have never been taken by such a bright star in the sky before.”
“ Nice to meet you.. come back again!”
“ I will in about two months when it is time to have red meat again.” Mike smiled with a twinkle in his eye.
“ I work till about ten thirty on the weekends.. stop in when you can.” Sirius smiled, obviously liking Mike.
“ I’ll do.. nice to meet you Sirius!”
“ what was your name again?”
“ nice to meet you Mike.”
Mike left the diner, feeling eerily spooked but kind of in a good way. He turned his head around, to look at the bright star that he now was certain was “ Sirius”. It had lowered in the sky a bit and lost a touch of its brilliance. Mike felt like he had asked the cosmos a question, "what are you?" And the answer had been given to him in the form of an unassuming androgynous waitress. “ Sirius, the brightest star in your firmament.” So many improbable elements had come together. 1. He had never been so in awe of such a bright star before. 2. He hardly ever went to this diner. 3. He hardly ever spoke to people when he was out eating after his photo work. 4. He had never heard of someone by the name of “Sirius” before. Mike thought that surely there was some meaning in his encounter with this young woman in her early twenties.
When he returned home, he got out one of his old books he had by Carl Jung, on “Synchronicity”.
“Synchronicity, the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.”
Mike so hoped that life had meaning, that surely these chance events, these unlikely occurrences pointed to some greater purpose. He didn’t want to lose this feeling he had. He didn’t want to just say to himself, “ oh.. it is just a coincidence. By the law of statistics, if you roll a pair of dice enough times and you are bound to get three snake eyes in a row somewhere along the line.” Mike wanted his world to be magical and mysterious again. He hated the rational boring mind, that he knew had to be reckoned with, but just this once, he wanted to allow himself to dissolve into the mystic.
“ Well I suppose you were open to experience. You went to a restaurant you don’t normally go to, you had been opened up by a month and a half of a mad production of photos, so maybe you saw the star a little more brightly because you had cleansed the windows of your spiritual eyes. The star was as bright as it always has been, but you were brighter. And then, you were open to talking with someone, finding about them, meeting someone new… maybe it is just a thing, that when a person is open to the world, the connections are more available to occur. Like cleaning the metal on electrical wires, the currents are that much stronger and more conductive. I wish my whole life could be one synchronistic and spontaneous current of spiritual togetherness and connection and flow for ever more. But how do I hold on to it?” Mike wondered.
He went back into his dark room, when he returned home, and looked at his photos developing in the pan.
“ I could care less about these photos.. what I want is to seize this feeling!” Mike ran out into the street with his camera, to capture the descending sirius star on film. But when he peered at it, it had lost its luster; it had drifted too far down near the horizon and was lost in bare branched trees.
Mike’s shoulders slumped into depression. The mystery of the evening was fading away from him, and he would never know why he was meant to meet a star and an androgynous waitress by the name of “Sirius”. A meaningful coincidence to be sure, but what did it “mean”?
Ten years earlier, Mike had been hospitalized for a ‘psychotic break’. He had been seeing coincidences and meanings in the whole shebang all around him, he thought it was just a sign that he was “enlightened” and saw the hidden connections between everything; he was elated with glory, while the doctors tried to sedate him. He took a thousand pictures. He would look at a bird out the hospital window and notice the dinosaur like qualities in it, and then look at the face of the nurse coming towards him and he could see the evolution of every living creature. He knew that the nurses were talking ill of him behind his back, they called him “paranoid”, he just called himself “perceptive”. He didn’t want to end up in the hospital again, so he just went back into his house, closed the door, and went into his dark room, to work on a routine, a formula he had developed in his photo work. “ Routine is safe… stick to the formula pal..” He said to himself. “ Better stay clear of the old psychosis.”
“ oh what is the point of all of my photo taking? Does anyone care out there? I work day in, day out, trying to create some kind of beauty in the god forsaken of a wasteland world, and I get nothing in return. Why do I even try? This society we live in… is so dry and harsh. No one cares, everything is money, and “me”.. “me”…. “me”…. Even my photos are really all about “me”. Since the whole world is wrapped up in “me”, we are forced into ourselves, and “we” become a solid wall, a fortress of “me”, defending against other fortresses of “me” enclosed peoples. A self re-enforcing cycle. I hate “me” living, but.. we are driven into it… the concrete pavement and roads to “success”, make no way for the individual. The individual is crushed in this society. What matters is a cash register to be tended to for 8 hours straight, the world needs people to cook hamburgers ten hours a day, the world needs men and women to drive the firetrucks and police sedans that run their sirens all day and night long, the world needs crime and police, and retail stores and credit cards, bars and liquor stores, and home builders, the world needs big business and management and schools, the world needs grocery stores, pharmacies, concrete and cars and trucks.. the world needs bus drivers and politicians, but it doesn’t need individuals, it doesn’t want to know a single thing about an “individual”. It despises the individual, and will crush him under its big toe any chance it can get.”
Mike felt more and more inflated the more that he railed against “society”. Of course he knew he was right, it was a fucking wasteland. But who was he to question it? “ I’m an artist! I’m God! That is who I am!” Mike would say to himself… but then pause, and think, “well, that is probably how a guy like Hitler got started, thinking he was above everyone else, deserved special treatment, was above getting a regular job. Hitler ruined it for the individual male Hero forever. He turned Individual Male Heroism into a bad name.. any time a male, forever more, stands strong against the herd, he is deemed a “Hitler”, a tyrant, an evil that needs to be squashed. Lets face it.. Hitler was the ultimate Ubermensch, and look where he took it? Into pure hell. Nietzsche and Darwin produced Hitler. He was a failed experiment never to be tried again, and for good reason.” Mike would talk to himself.
“ The Artist now, is forever a worm.. trying to squirm above the level of mere survival, but never standing so tall that he can be labelled an Adolf.”
Mike could feel the psychosis building and returning. His thoughts were becoming fractured, disjointed, short lived spurts of brilliant luminance or stupidity, he could no longer tell. He thought of himself a great intellectual, but in the end, he knew that a job sitting behind a burger grill had his name on it. No one gave a shit about his higher self, and his pontificating thoughts on Hitler and Darwinism, and Nietzsche, they wanted a hamburger with fries, and a chocolate malt, just like he had just had. No one gave a shit about his synchronistic experiences, no one gave a shit about the star “sirius”. No one gave a shit whether he was working in old black and white print photographs, or digital. No one gave a shit. No one gave a shit if he took the extra time to cover his hands over the exposure to make the light coming onto the black floor a slightly brighter or duller shade, to give it the just right amount of nuance. No one gave a shit. “No one gives a shit.. life.. society .. the celestial bodies are a great Newtonian machine, churning and burning out people like a shit grinder. Mechanical numbers, concrete, mental noise, sirens, car alarms, suburban sequestered homes, the “Me” society, didn’t really ironically in the end care about “me”. Its the machine that moves, the massive herd being moved by politicians and big business, and dry dead beat socialists that think they know best, the whole thing is a desolate pit of asphalt, where nothing grows, but trash and litter. One could spend ones whole life sitting behind a frier, or a cat register!” Mike was feeling the juices flow again.
“ Wouldnt it be cool, to get paid a thousand dollars for every synchronistic occurrence one had? To get paid to be alive! To get paid to be open to the world. To get paid to connect the dots!”